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01/12/2015 06:02 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Joe Bell, World War II Vet And Viral Video Star, Dead At 95

It was one of the most touching viral videos of the past year: World War II veteran Joe Bell, in uniform, standing outside to cheer on runners as they participated in a charity race in front his home in San Jose, Calif. But the runners weren't going to let a former paratrooper cheer them on. Instead, they turned it around and gave him the cheers -- with many running onto the sidewalk to thank him for his service.

Some even paused to shake his hand as they ran by.

Bell died on Thursday at his home, NBC Bay Area reported. His family told KGO that his heart gave out. He was 95.

Bell's son, 55-year-old Matt Bell, told the San Jose Mercury News that the viral clip may have added months to his father's life.

"He wouldn't have lasted nearly as long if it wasn't for the love of the people who saw that video," Matt Bell told the newspaper. "When someone said, 'Hey, that's Joe Bell!' he'd stick his chest out. They'd say, 'That meal's on me.'"

For his part, Bell seemed to take all the attention in stride.

"I'm surprised," Bell told NBC Bay Area after his sudden rise to fame. "I didn't know there were that many people interested in WWII."

The viral fame led to him getting his own baseball card from the San Jose Giants, a minor-league affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

The team sent out a tweet in remembrance after learning of the veteran's death:

The event that led to Bell's fame was the 408k Race benefiting the Pat Tillman Foundation, which funds scholarships for veterans and their spouses.

"Mr. Bell made an impression on us all last year," 408k Race founder J.T. Service wrote in a blog post. "Our thoughts and well wishes are with Mr. Bell, his family and friends. We are forever grateful and thankful."

After the war, Bell worked as a tool-and-die maker in San Jose. His wife, Mary, died four years ago after 67 years of marriage, the Mercury News reported. The couple had seven children, including Matt, who told the paper that his father had recently been saying, "I love you, Mary. I'm coming with you."

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