RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -

World War II veteran, civil rights activist and Palm Springs resident Joseph Beaver received the highest honor awarded to a civilian by Congress. Congressman Raul Ruiz hosted a ceremony to honor Beaver with the Congressional Gold Medal.  Past recipients include George Washington, Mother Theresa and Thomas Edison.  "You know, it's always somewhere else," said Beaver.  "Almost on the moon even, but not me and I'm beyond words, I'm honored." 

Beaver, 91, served in the Marine Corps from 1943-1946 and was a Montford Point Marine-- the first African-Americans to join the Marine Corps.  About 20,000 black marines trained at Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina.  In 2011, President Barack Obama signed legislation that honored the Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal. "They had to fight two wars, one against racism, the other against war itself," said Michael Johnson from the Montford Point Marine Association. 

Mr. Beaver's fight didn't stop after the war.  He became active in the civil rights movement, joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  He also took part in the march on Washington on August, 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. "Chills still go up my back, there was a throng of 250,000 in that march and we had had it up to here!" recalls Beaver. 

Despite everything Mr. Beaver's accomplished and how much the country's changed, he's still focused on fighting for equality. "I don't care what your color or your belief, you have a right to be free." 

Mr. Beaver is also the founder of the Black Historical Cultural Society.  He is also chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee in the desert.