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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -
One of the first African-Americans to serve in the military during World War II was recognized for his service Saturday.
Melvin Ballard was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at the Phillips CME Church in Huntsville. The Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded by the U.S. Congress.
Ballard was supposed to join his 400 fellow Montford Point Marines in an award ceremony in Washington D.C. on June 27, but could not make it due to his health.
But that did not stop Ballard's family and community leaders from honoring him for his service where recognition was due.
"We're really happy to show our love and support of him here in Huntsville," said Tracy Doyle, Ballard's niece.
Ballard was drafted into the Marine Corps when he was 18 years old in 1943. He trained at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina to take his place in the 51st Defense Battalion before he was sent to the South Pacific.
Ballard was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to Alabama to work at Redstone Arsenal and retired from the U.S. Army in 1978.
Now 86 years old, Ballard stood strong through the ceremony despite his age to receive the honor that was earned but not yet recognized many decades ago.
"He is a no-nonsense person and does not really go for pomp and circumstance," Doyle said.
"I think he's indulging the family today. He knows that we want to honor him and he has honored us by showing up," she said.
Governor Robert Bentley's office extended the honor by presenting Ballard a flag that flew over the state's capital on Thursday.
Mayor Tommy Battle designated the day Ballard was awarded – July 14 – as Melvin Ballard Day.