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Pembina County WWII veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Ruth Shephard is only one of about 30 female World War II veterans still alive in North Dakota.

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Ruth Shephard greets relatives at her 100th birthday party.
Matt Henson / WDAY News
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GRAND FORKS — When you have celebrated as many birthdays at Ruth Shephard, it's easy to lose count of how old you are.

Her grandson Thomas Shephard had to help her remember.

"Am I 100?" Ruth asked Thomas at her birthday party.

"Yeah," he replied.

"Feels pretty old," she said.

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Ruth Shephard was born and raised in Grafton, North Dakota. At age 22, she became part of North Dakota history when she volunteered her skills as a nurse and served with the U.S. Army in World War II.

"We had probes and would help people and give them shots," she said, explaining her duties.

According to a database provided by the Veterans Administration, Ruth Shephard is only one of about 30 women still alive in North Dakota who served in World War II.

It's unknown if any of them are 100.

"It's a legacy that we're proud of," said her grandson.

After returning from the war, Ruth Shephard met another World War II veteran. They married after just three dates and raised three children on a farm in Crystal, North Dakota.

For nearly 70 years she never talked about her time at war with her family except on a few occasions.

Ruth Shephard was always quick to remind the love of her life she was a 2nd lieutenant with the U.S. Army, her husband was only a sergeant.

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"If they would be having a disagreement at the kitchen table, 'I outrank you, remember that,' kind of thing," said her daughter Carol Grabow. "So they had a lot of sweet moments that way."

It wasn't until a trip on the WDAY Honor Flight in 2016 when she opened up to her family for the first time about her service.

"I wanted to do something important, something good, so that's why I joined the Army," Ruth Shepard said during an interview during the honor flight. "I guess I was young enough not to know any better."

She was the only female on the Honor Flight of nearly 100 servicemen. The front page of the Forum called her a "trailblazer."

"The thing that struck my heart the most was when she talked about after she would be on duty, she would take a second shift, and she would go over to the prisoner of war tent and she would take a shift there," said Grabow.

While she may be short on war stories, she has words of wisdom to celebrate 100 birthdays.

"I get up in the morning and just try to get along," she said with a laugh.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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