91-Year-Old Veteran Finally Receives Purple Heart

NORTH TEXAS (CBS News) – “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 awarded the retired corporal one of the oldest medals in the armed forces. He also became one of the oldest, if not the oldest Marine, to ever receive the Purple Heart Award.

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 award was given 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 just 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 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 fellow serviceman who was still alive. “I’m trying to find somebody,” he said.

Then he tried arguing with some 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 another appeal and in November 2017, the Board of Corrections sent Dawson a letter finally acknowledging his “injuries warrant a Purple Heart.”

So Dawson’s recent ceremony also symbolized a battle of a different sort to so many of his supporters.

In his acceptance speech, Dawson was quick to thank 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,” Dawson said.

But on the day of his ceremony, the only person 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.