HAYWARD, Calif. (KTVU) - Surrounded by his family, former Marine Joseph Alexander received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
The 94-year-old Hayward resident earned his honor during WWII, for being part of the first unit of African Americans to join the Marines.
He was forced to train in a segregated boot camp called Montford Point in North Carolina.
"It was hell,' said Michael Johnson, regional vice-president of the National Montford Point Marine Association.
"The first original drill instructors were all white. They did everything they could to make them fail. It wasn't about training them. It was about demoralizing them and getting them to fail."
Alexander fought in the South Pacific fighting the Japanese in the Marshall Islands.
But his sacrifice seemed to matter little once he returned home to his native New Orleans.
"He had his dress blues on but had to go to the back of the bus. He was fighting overseas, then came home and had civil rights issues," said daughter Lori Alexander.
Alexander later settled in the East Bay.
His family says he was proud of his service but didn't talk much about it.
During the ceremony he chose not to speak at all.
"He's a very good man. He's a good husband. He's a good father. He's good friends to many," said his wife Elmarie.
The Montford Point Marines are considered trail blazers for their willingness to help desegregate the military.
Eight years ago, President Barack Obama declared all 20,000 of the Marines eligible for the Congressional Gold Medal.
But his family knew nothing about it until recently when they inquired about Veterans' services.
His family says they're proud their father was a pioneer in integrating the military.
"Things have gotten better from that time. But we still have a long way to go," said Lori Alexander.