A US Marine who was dishonourably discharged from the military for being gay almost 60 years ago has been given his dying wish to have an honourable discharge.

Hal Faulkner, a 79-year-old man who is dying from cancer, was discharged from the marines in 1956, just three years after joining.

Given an “undesirable discharge”, Faulkner’s papers were updated to say “homosexual” on them – which drew a line under his military career.

After moving on and having a lucrative career in sales, fifty years later, he was diagnosed terminal cancer, and contacted his family to express his dying wish – to have his discharge altered to reflect the passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT).

Faulkner came out to his family in 2005 as he attended a wedding with his partner of over 20 years.

Michelle Clark, a niece of Faulkner said: “I always knew he served in the Marines, but no one in the family knew of the [undesirable] discharge.”

“He’s been carrying this societal shame with him all these years,” Clark says. “We as a family had no idea the pain he had inside of him.”

DADT was repealed in 2012, and allowed openly gay and lesbian military members to serve openly.

Already having lived months longer than any of his doctors predicted, pro-bono laywers found by group OutServe-SLDN, were concerned by the length of time it could take to have the discharge altered – normally six months.

Faulkner’s lawyer Anne Brooksher-Yen said of the military’s decision to expedite the case: “I didn’t know whether expedited was going to mean six weeks or six months… So I did have a conversation with him that we might not be able to get this done before he died.”

His request was actioned in less than two weeks, however, and on Friday he was presented with the honourable discharge.

“I didn’t think that maybe I would last through all the battles that we’ve had, but a Marine is always a Marine,” Faulkner said at the ceremony.

Two Marines in uniform presented him with his papers as his family looked on, mostly in tears. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Gillespie, who is also on the board of OutServe, read out the papers to Faulkner.

“I don’t have much longer to live,” Faulkner said, “I will always be a Marine. Thank you. Semper fi.” The Marines replied with their battle cry: “Oorah.”

Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz said: “What happened today is that a dying man, his dignity was restored.

“He will die here knowing that he served his country honorably. You certainly can’t right the wrong of six decades, [but] you can make it right going forward. And that’s what happened today, and that’s what we hope will come to thousands of American similarly situated.”

Sainz estimates that more than 114,000 troops were given dishonourable discharges for being gay before DADT, but he says many probably don’t even know they are eligible to correct their records, enabling them to get benefits such as home loans, or health care.

Brooksher-Yen said it was never about benefits for Faulkner. She said: “It was really overwhelming seeing Hal finally have this wrong righted… He is such a wonderful loving man, and he served with honor in the military and it was so important to him.”