A 96-year-old Marine aviator who served during World War II crossed the New York City Marathon’s finish line after a grueling 11 hours and 23 minutes of shuffling his feet for nearly 30 miles.
Jonathan Mendes flew over 100 missions in World War II with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 151 over the Pacific, later flying over 70 missions in the Korean war. In between combat tours, he trained Mercury Astronaut John Glenn and baseball legend Ted Williams.
A graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard Business School, Mendes now lives in a spacious apartment in Manhattan, where he has a scotch every afternoon and walks two miles every morning.
When asked why he wanted to punish his aging body by doing the marathon, he said that he just needed a task to fulfill.
“You have to have goals in life,” Mendes said. “They don’t have to be important. But at this stage, I’ve done it all. I’ve skied all over the world. I’ve canoed the great rivers of the world. I flew dive-bombers for the Marine Corps in World War II, and jet fighter attack planes in Korea. And I never got hurt, so I don’t have any bad memories.”
Walking at a 25-minute mile pace, Mendes clutches the sleeves of his two support guides to keep him from falling over. One of the guides is Art Berman, who volunteers to assists older runners in endurance events.
“Jon just likes the challenge of doing this. He is a very determined man, if you haven’t figured that out,” Berman said.
As he closed within twenty meters of the finish line, race director Peter Ciaccia placed his arm around Mendes, presenting him with a medal as he crossed the finish line.
“Semper fi,” Ciaccia said.
“Do or die,” Mendes replied.
As Mendes’ journey came to an end, he asked if he could lie down. When asked if he wanted water, the old Marine replied that he wanted a scotch.
Trainer Tom Mangan pulled a small paper bag from his pocket, producing two miniature Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles.
“I’ve been saying for years that the key to living this long is a shot of whiskey a day and a good woman, in that order,” Mendes told RunnersWorld.
As a nurse approached, she asked Mendes how he was doing. Sipping his scotch, he grabs her hand.
“Oh, I am just fine,” he said.
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