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Bill Shemorry

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Writer, photographer and historian Bill Shemorry passed away on this date in 2004. He was 89 and was described as “one of a kind.” He was a newspaperman in Williston for more than 70 years and was witness to a great deal of the city’s history.

As a child, Shemorry was one of the very first boys to have a paper route in Williston; he delivered both the Williston Herald and the Farmers’ Press. He graduated from Williston High School in 1932 and later joined the military.

During World War II he was a member of the 164th Signal Corps, and his assignment was to cover the Chinese Theatre of Operations as a photographer. He covered the Burma Road, the first bomb raid on the Japanese mainland, and the Allied supply line that linked China to India.

After the war, Shemorry returned to Williston and worked for the Farmers’ Press and Press Graphic. Many people consider his most memorable photograph to be one he took on April 4th, 1951. He was the only photographer on location when oil was discovered in North Dakota. It was the Clarence Iverson #1 well near Tioga, and he recorded the moment by the light of a huge gas flare. That image is an oilfield classic.

Shemorry started his own weekly newspaper, the Williston Plains Reporter, in 1953. He kept it for 25 years before selling it to the Williston Herald. He opened his own photography business after that, and he continued writing columns for the Herald.

Shemorry was passionate about war history and donated a major body of his work to UND. Among these materials is a collection of articles called The Adventures of Private Bill, a compilation of stories from the Farmers’ Press, in which Shemorry detailed his wartime exploits.

Another body of work is titled "The Way It Was 50 Years or So Ago," which is a collection of articles he wrote for the Williston Herald in 1994 and ‘95. These stories focused on World War II and specifically on the oral histories of Williston area veterans.

In 2002, William Shemorry was inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Sources: Tim Pederson, Williston Daily Herald, April 12, 2004; Associated Press, April 14, 2004;

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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