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I-Team: WWII Veteran Fights For Purple Heart

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Seven decades have passed but Shelby Dawson still remembers his second morning on Guam like it was yesterday.

"There was battleships and cruisers out there lobbying rounds on the island and a few dive bombers dropping bombs."

A Lieutenant sent Dawson to check on his best friend. "Hey go over there and see what is wrong with Chic," he remembered.

"He was on his machine gun like this." Dawson explained how the Marine was leaning forward with his hand over his head.

Next he described what happened when he picked the man up. "He came back and right here looked like someone had punched him with a pencil," explained Dawson pointing to a spot near his eye.

He soon realized he friend had a small gunshot wound on his face. He'd been hit by a sharp shooter. The 90-year-old veteran, who had been so strong, dropped his head and became speechless.

Reliving the horrible moment, he could only get these words out, "He was my best friend." His voice cracked and he fought back tears.

It was all shocking to the then 17-year-old Marine who enlisted in 1943. According to his military records, Dawson fought " ...against the Japanese on Guam and Iwo Jima."

Seventy-years later, he is fighting for recognition. "I believe I deserve the Purple Heart."

Military records state during Dawson's time in the Marine Corps, "The Purple Heart medal was authorized for those who were wounded as a direct result of action by an enemy." But, for years the Navy has refused to award Dawson the Purple Heart because it says he can't prove he was hurt in battle. You're about to hear why "prove" is the operative word.

"From the time we landed they were coming at us," explained Dawson reliving his days during the Invasion of Guam. Dawson says he traveled with five Marines, machine guns and a lot of artillery. He remembers the night mortar rounds exploded around them.

"The explosion knocked me kind of silly and knocked my helmet off. I reached down to pick up my (gun) and my hand wouldn't work. " Dawson says that's when he realized shrapnel had embedded in his left wrist.

"I just said I think I am hit."

He made it the medical tent but a doctor there told him there was no quick fix.

"He said I don't know where it is. You need to go aboard the hospital ship for an x-ray so they can take it out."

But Dawson says he could not leave his men behind to carry all those weapons and ammunition. He had the doctor in the tent bandage his arm. He returned to his troops. And, he learned how to carry his rifle on the other side.

Shelby humbly described not being able to leave his fellow Marines fighting without him. "I wasn't brave. Don't get me wrong. Well, well, I couldn't."

In the chaos of war, none of this was ever documented.

So when Dawson's grandchildren convinced him to apply for a Purple Heart, the Navy said he had no proof. He "fail(ed) to reveal any documentation...entitling him to the Purple Heart medal, " stated the Navy in a letter to Dawson.

Dawson has reached out to lawmakers looking for help, and, in letters to them, the Navy admits Dawson's military records show he "... received shrapnel to his left wrist in 1944" but they do not "indicate that the injury was in result of hostile action."

But Dawson argues he does have proof and he is now filing an appeal with military records that show he had no scar on his arm when he enlisted. And he had "shrapnel in his left wrist" when he discharged.

He also has medical exam records from a VA and an orthopedic doctor who have both documented the injury. Plus, he recently had an x-ray taken of his hand showing the metal pieces still floating around in his wrist.

Dawson says they often get on a nerve and he has to flick his wrist to make it comfortable.

His wife wonders if he will ever give up. Quoting one of his favorite commanders, Winston Churchill, the world war two veteran says, "No!"

"Never, ever, ever never give up. If I get no again this time, I will have never given up."

And he's not giving up. Two weeks ago, Dawson took his case to Senator John Cornyn's office. A spokesperson told us that the office would try to "assist" Dawson.

We will continue to follow up with Cornyn's office.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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