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With hospice help, Colorado veteran gets medals 61 years later

DENVER -- For more than 60 years, no one knew what a hero Cornelius Jones really was.

“That's just part of the story of African-American soldiers," his daughter, Norma Paige, said.

Paige believes the color of his skin kept Jones from being recognized for his bravery.

“Back then, they just weren't treated the same," Paige said.

Her father was drafted into the Army in 1951.  He fought in the Korean War and was assigned to the very last segregated anti-aircraft battalion in the military.

Jones talked about the war sometimes, but never bragged. Which is why his daughter never knew the whole story.

"He put his life on the line. And he was a war hero," Paige said.

It wasn't until he was on his death bed -- two years ago -- at The Denver Hospice that the staff noticed something.

They looked at his DD Form 214 -- his military discharge papers, and realized he had earned three medals -- two Bronze Stars for bravery, and a United Nations medal for distinguished service.

But he never received them. That was common with black soldiers.

That's when hospice volunteers went to work. They made some calls, and within 24 hours, on behalf of President Barack Obama, Jones had a ceremony -- and was awarded the medals.

"Very painful that 61 years later, on his deathbed, he gets the honor that he should have received,” Paige said.

"We are tenacious to make sure that (veterans) get the benefits that they need and that they get the honors they receive," said Maria Kallas, coordinator of veterans programs at The Denver Hospice.

She said there are a lot of stories like Cornelius'. Heroes, worthy of respect and honor, who don't get it until it's nearly too late.

It nearly was too late for Jones. Just two days after receiving those medals, he died. He was 85. For most of his life, the world never knew about his bravery -- including his own family.

Now, they will never forget.

The Denver Hospice has a special program for veterans. Workers reach out to the Veterans Administration and other organizations to make sure each veteran is getting every benefit they should before they die.