A 91-year-old man from Burlington who is a veteran of three foreign wars was honored with a private ceremony today in the Burlington Memorial Auditorium.

“I’m kind of overwhelmed today because I just never did know that anything like this would ever happen,” said Al Nelson, a former Marine who enlisted when he was 18.

Nelson served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“The town has been so good to me for 92 years,” Nelson said. “I’ll be 92 next month.”

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst was on hand today to present Nelson with a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol. Ernst, a retired Iowa National Guard officer who did a tour of duty in Iraq, also presented Nelson with something a bit more personal.

“There is a tradition in the military of challenge coins,” Ernst said. “…It’s a tradition I’m carrying on in the United States Senate.”

Ernst gave Nelson a coin that features the U.S. Senate emblem on one side and the Iowa flag and a Minuteman on the other. Nelson gave Ernst a gift in return — sand from the beach at Iwo Jima. Nelson, who was a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, had been given the sand during a peacetime trip to the island. The Marines landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, and captured it from the Japanese 35 days later.

(Reporting by David Hightower, KBUR, Burlington)