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91-Year-Old Retired Marine Becomes One Of The Oldest To Receive Purple Heart

KELLER, Texas (CBS11) - "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 Keven Matthews.

Ninety-one-year-old Shelby Dawson finally heard those much deserved words in a ceremony at his church last weekend. The military awarded the retired corporal one of the oldest medals in the armed forces.

Dawson also became one of the oldest, if not the oldest Marine, to ever receive the Purple Heart Award.

Shelby Dawson
Shelby Dawson (CBS11)

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

Shelby Dawson
Shelby Dawson gets his Purple Heart (CBS11)

Dawson's wife sat with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who began asking years ago why their grandfather 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 award was given to those "wounded" by an enemy. But Dawson had a hard time proving that happened. And that's how the I-Team first met him back in 20-16.

Dawson told CBS11, in 1944, days into the invasion on Guam, a mortar around 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 walk away from 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 the battlefield.

And in the chaos of war- nothing was ever 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 Marine who was still alive. "I'm trying to find somebody."

And then he tried arguing with some key information:

--Military records showed he had no scar when enlisted
--He had "shrapnel in his left wrist" when he left
--Doctors had since documented his injury
--X-rays showed metal in his wrist today

Still the Navy told the I-Team the records " not indicate the injury was in result of hostile action."

But then he, and the I-Team, 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.

And take care of this Marine is exactly what Colonel Andrus did. He helped Dawson with another appeal and in November 2017, the Board of Corrections sent Dawson a letter finally acknowledging his "..Injuries warrant a Purple Heart."

And so this ceremony also symbolized a battle of a different sort so many of Dawson's supporters have spent the last few years fighting.

In his acceptance speech, Dawson was quick to thank so many of them.

"I'd like to thank my family... my beautiful sweet wife. We've been married almost 65 years now... my son Gregg... If it wasn't for my friend James, I wouldn't be standing here... Colonel Colonel Collin Andrus... Ginger Allen..."

But, on this day, the only person who anyone wanted to see receive thanks was Corporal Shelby Dawson who had waited way too long to receive recognition for his service and sacrifice nearly 74 years ago.

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