NORTH TEXAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – It was 1944. Days into the invasion on Guam, mortar rounds exploded all around 17-year-old Marine, Shelby Dawson.
“I just said, ‘I think I’m hit,’” said Dawson.
Shrapnel embedded in his left wrist. He made it to the medical tent but a doctor told him he needed to go to the hospital ship. Instead, Dawson bandaged his arm, learned how to carry his rifle on his rifle on the other side, and returned to his troops.
Dawson looks down and humbly responds when asked why he couldn’t leave his men. “Ahh…,” he says. “I wasn’t brave. Don’t get me wrong. Well, I couldn’t.”
In the chaos of war, nothing was documented. And for the next seven decades, Dawson thought little about his injury. He chokes up talking about what he remembers on the battlefield.
But, the veteran’s children and grandchildren knew what happened and remember. For years, they pushed Dawson to ask the U.S. Navy for the Purple Heart. At the time Dawson was in the Marines, it was awarded to “those injured… by an enemy” according to Naval records.
But when Dawson applied for the award, the Navy told him he had no “proof.” In letters to Dawson, it said, “He failed to reveal any documentation entitling him to the Purple Heart.”
Dawson contacted the I-Team. The Navy told the I-Team the records “…do not indicate the injury was in result of hostile action.”
He then reached out to State Representatives and a Senator for help. He was repeatedly denied the honor.
The I-Team learned military records showed Dawson had a scar when he enlisted. Military records showed he had no scar when he discharged. According to medical records, doctors have since documented the injury. And, in x-rays, an orthopedic doctor told us he still had metal in his wrists. Still, Dawson was denied the award.
Earlier this year, Dawson got invited to Washington, DC on the Honor Flight, a trip to recognize veterans.
“They gave me this book when I got back,” says Dawson showing the I-Team a picture album of the monuments and attractions he toured on the trip.
And while several lawmakers made calls to help Dawson in the last year, one man, according to Dawson, came along and help get it done.
“Once a marine, always a marine,” says Colonel Collin Andrus.
Dawson got help from a mutual friend and respected Colonel Collin Andrus of the U.S. Navy.
“He decided not to get taken care and went back to his unit with his fellow marines, because he knew they needed to be there to help and that’s what Marines do. Marines take care of Marines. Doesn’t matter if it was 73 years ago or today,” says Colonel Andrus.
Andrus tells the I-Team he made all he did was making a few phone calls to get the Board of Corrections to take a closer look at Dawson’s record.
Earlier this month, the spokesperson with the United States Navy told the I-Team it is now rushing to award the 91-year-old veteran the Purple Heart.
In a letter to Dawson, the Board of Corrections says it would “perpetuate an injustice” not to award him. The letter states the Navy is changing Dawson’s official record saying it would “perpetuate an injustice” not to award Dawson the Purple Heart. It determined an “injustice exist(ed)” in his current record.
“The biggest reason I did this is because when talking with Shelby he said, ‘You know, I don’t really care about this,’ but I knew he did, ‘but the biggest reason, I wanted to leave something for my grandkids. I wanted to leave a legacy for them so that they know I did something special,’ “ explained Andrus.
Dawson’s young grandson, Jacob, already seems to know. “Thank you for helping my granddad… He saved our country in World War II.”
“I just appreciate them accepting logic and what I considered proof,” says Dawson.
The 91-year-old veteran will be awarded the Purple Heart on January 6, 2018. The process usually takes up to 180 days but the US Navy told the I-Team, due to Dawson’s health issues, it is “rushing” the process to make sure he and his whole family finally receive this much-deserved honor.