Writer, photographer and historian Bill Shemorry passed away one year ago today; 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 his 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.
Shemorry’s service in World War II wasn’t typical for a North Dakota soldier. He was a member of the 164th Signal Corps, and his assignment was to cover the Chinese Theatre of Operations as a photographer. He documented, among many other things, the construction of the Burma Road, the first bomb raid by U.S. B-29s on the Japanese mainland, and also covered 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 the night of April 4, 1951. As luck would have it, 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 now considered 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, but he continued writing columns for the Herald for a good long time.
Shemorry was passionate about war history and donated a major body of his work to the Carleton Elliott Simensen Military collection at 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 from 1943-1946.
Another body of work is titled The Way It Was 50 Years or So Ago, which is a collection of articles Shemorry 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.
Shemorry also wrote a book called D-Day...The Way It Was, which is divided into three sections. The first is “1944...The Story of ‘Overlord,’ The Attack on Nazi Europe,” in which Shemorry describes the lead-up to the allied invasion at Normandy and the planning process for Operation Overlord. The second section, “The Assault on Normandy,” describes the invasion itself. Section three is called “First Person Vignettes by and of the Men, and a Few Women, Who Were There.” For this segment, Shemorry reprinted stories from the Service Men’s Herald, an auxiliary publication of the Williston Herald between 1943 and 1945, including letters, photos and first-person accounts from G.I.s. It also includes press releases from the Office of War Information.
Shemorry also wrote a booklet called, “As World War II Ended, G.I.s in Liuchow, China Prepared for a Skirmish.” In this piece, Shemorry told of his experiences – along with those of two other G.I.s in the 164th Signal Corps – while stationed in Liuchow, China, in August 1945.
William Shemorry was inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2002.
Sources: Tim Pederson, Williston Daily Herald, April 12, 2004; Associated Press, April 14, 2004; http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/og1278.html
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm