A 96-year-old member of the Greatest Generation, and whose spontaneous handshaking was captured on video by his neighbor, was the grand marshal of Friday's Rose, White and Blue Parade in San Jose.
World War II veteran Joe Bell kicked off the parade in the Rose Garden neighborhood where he lives.
"It surprised me," he said after the parade. "I didn't think they'd (make) all this fuss."
U.S. & World
Bell served his country in the 1940s and was a demolition jumper for the Army and survived the Rape of Nanking. And as a patriot, he often could be seen walking about in his U.S. Army Airborne uniform.
And that's what he was wearing one Sunday in March, as runners zipped by his home during the 408k Race to the Row, which benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation, named for the late NFL star killed while serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2002.
His next door neighbor is Julia Prodis Sulek, who also happens to be a reporter for the Mercury News. She woke up to hear clapping and cheering outside her house.
Then she peeked outside.
She realized all the commotion was for Bell, who was standing outside on the sidewalk in full military dress to root on the runners. But it was Bell who soon began getting all the attention.
Runners spontaneously ran up to the elderly manand shook his hands, shouting, "Thank you for your service."
Even though it was her day off, Sulek grabbed her iPhone and documented the organic tribute to this veteran.
Since she's also a reporter, she sent the video into work.
It was a good decision.
She posted the video, which went viral, surpassing 1 million views in a few days. The Today Show featured her video and a story online. Nightly News and NBC Bay Area also used Sulek's short footage and interviewed Bell about his service.
For his part, Bell was taken aback that so many young people are interested in the story of a man who was born in Shanghai, survived the Rape of Nanking, was a "demolition jumper" for the Army in the 1940s and retired as a tool and dye maker.
Bell said he felt fortunate to live such a long and productive life. But despite all the attention, he doesn't consider himself anyone special.
"Well, there's a lot of fellas better than me," he said. "I know a lot of fellas that died. I happen to be alive, that's all. Lucky."
NBC Bay Area's Kent Wilhoite and Scott Budman contributed to this report.
NBC Bay Area's Bob Redell contributed to this report.