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World War II Navy Vet Who Ran In 744 Marathons Dies At 96

February 14, 2017

A 96-year-old World War II Navy veteran who ran in 744 marathons during his lifetime passed away earlier this month.

Don McNelly passed away near his home in Rochester, New York on February 5, according to the Richard H. Keenan Funeral Home.

McNelly enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served as chief engineering officer aboard the USS Kyne, a Cannon-class destroyer escort officially known as DE-744.

A former paper company executive, McNelly didn’t start running until he was close to 50 years old when a friend of his died of a heart attack. He ran his first marathon in Boston in 1969 and continued to run them for 40 years.

He ran a marathon in all 50 states in the United States, every Canadian province and every continent in the world. In total, he ran 744 marathons, the same number as his Navy destroyer. While in his 70’s, McNelly ran 295 marathons and 58 ultra marathons.

McNelly finished his final marathon in 2010 at the age of 89.

McNelly was born in Brookville, Ohio on November 11, 1920 and was given the middle name “Pershing” after World War I military hero General John J. Pershing.

During his life, he survived a radical prostatectomy at 67, chronic lymphocytic leukemia in his 80’s, and occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation.

During an Interview with Runners World, McNelly was asked why he continued to run in marathons.

“I’m not interested in my legacy,” he said. “I’m more interested in living.”