March 14, 2014

FREY: Soldier stands a little taller, thanks to marathoners


---- — I love Brian Williams, but given the choice, I would prefer not watching NBC Nightly News these days.

The segments are depressing and full of woe.

I will begin with the turmoil in Ukraine. There is the ongoing mental war between Presidents (I use the term lightly on both accounts) Putin and Obama. There is the strange case of New Jersey Governor Chris “Bridgegate” Christie. And I will end with that poor woman who drove her three children into the Atlantic Ocean in the family minivan.

Bad stuff, I tell you.

Collectively, these people and situations are wearing me down to the nubbins.

But every once in a while, thank God, a story so full of life emerges, that for a few moments, all is right with the world.

Such was the case in San Jose, Calif., a few weeks ago when World War II veteran Joe Bell decided to stand in front of his house to cheer on a group of marathon runners who were raising money for veterans.

The runners were in the 408K Race to the Row, which benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation.

In a heart warming turn of events, the runners noticed Bell off to the side, and spontaneously ran up to shake the hand of the 95-year-old man garbed in his well-fitting brown U.S. Army Airborne uniform.

Their words to Bell, not said often enough in a world where quite possibly we just don’t make or take the time, were simple and sincere: “Thank you for your service.”

The scene was breathtaking.

Hand shake after hand shake after hand shake.

The look of surprise and contentment on Bell’s face was priceless.

Bell, born in Shanghai and one of 17 children, was a demolition jumper for the Army from 1942 to 1946. In an NBC Bay Area television interview, Bell, a retired tool and die maker, said that he was surprised so many young people were even interested in WWII.

In his report, NBC News correspondent Mike Taibbi said that Bell, now a widower, at times felt like his life was ebbing away.

That word ebb, meaning to fade away or decline, is a sad word to describe the life of a WWII veteran whose days are nearing the end.

But not on that day.

On that day, a group of young people put the race on hold for a few seconds to shower appreciation and praise on a man who put his life on the line over 60 years ago to make the world a better place in which to live.

On that day, kindness, respect and gratitude trumped competition and who finished the race first.

On that day, Bell, I am almost positive, stood a little taller, and perhaps for a short while, felt like his life was just beginning.

An unknown author once wrote that “gratitude is the music of the heart, when its chords are swept by the breeze of kindness.”

Kindness swept through that sunlit street in San Jose a few weeks ago, and Bell, as it turned out, was the real winner of the race.

Pat Tillman, who put his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country after the attacks on 9/11, would have been proud.

I have decided that the next time I see anyone wearing an Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard uniform, I will take pause, stop what I am doing, and show my gratitude with those five simple and sincere words: “Thank you for your service.”

Care to join me?

Alvia Lewis Frey is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at