91-year-old veteran finally receives Purple Heart

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS) -- "Ladies and gentleman, I'm honored today to present Corporal Shelby Dawson the Purple Heart medal for his sacrifice in the defense of our great nation," said U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Kevin Matthews.

Ninety-one-year-old Shelby Dawson finally heard those much-deserved words in a ceremony at his church last weekend, according to CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.

The military bestowed one of the oldest medals in the armed forces on the retired corporal. He also became one of the oldest, if not the oldest Marine, to receive the Purple Heart.

A crowd of more than 200 people came to watch Dawson receive the honor which he earned more than seven decades ago.

Dawson's wife sat with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who began asking years ago why he had never received the Purple Heart.

Dawson enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. At that time, according to military records, the medal was awarded to those wounded by an enemy. But Dawson had a hard time proving that happened.

Dawson said that in 1944, days into the invasion on Guam, a mortar round exploded near him.

"The explosion knocked me kind of silly. I reached down to pick up my M1 and my hand won't work."

Hit by shrapnel, he made it to the medical tent where a doctor told him he needed to go to the hospital ship.

But Dawson could not leave his men. "I wasn't brave. Don't get me wrong. Well, well – I couldn't," said Dawson, humbly looking down and smiling.

Although he was injured, Dawson bandaged his arm and returned to his troops. In the chaos of war, nothing was documented.

So when he first applied for the Purple Heart, the Navy told him he failed to prove his case. He tried looking for witnesses in his 1943 black book.

Flipping through the now yellowed pages, he had trouble finding a fellow serviceman who was alive. "I'm trying to find somebody," he said.

Then he tried arguing with key information, including the fact that military records showed he had no scar when he enlisted, but he had "shrapnel in his left wrist" by the time he left.

Still the Navy said the records did not "indicate the injury was in result of hostile action."

Finally, Dawson met retired Marine Corps Colonel Collin Andrus.

"He decided not to get taken care and went back to his unit with his fellow Marines. That's what Marines do. Marines take care of Marines," said the colonel.

Take care of this Marine is exactly what Andrus did. He helped Dawson with an appeal and in November 2017, the Board of Corrections sent Dawson a letter acknowledging his "injuries warrant a Purple Heart."