World War I veteran receives posthumous Purple Heart medal

Six people pose for a photo during an awards ceremony
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (center left) presents the family of late World War I Private Charles Shepherd with a Purple Heart medal in the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul on Thursday. Shepherd’s son, Larry Shepherd (center right), an Air Force veteran, accepted the award on his father’s behalf.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A World War I veteran who was shot during one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military history received a posthumous Purple Heart medal this week.

Private Charles Francis Shepherd was fighting in the Meuse Argonne Offensive in France. On his fifth day, he was struck in the right arm by German forces. They later gassed the area, but Shepherd had no mask to protect himself.

“Stranded without a gas mask, Private Shepherd breathed through a handkerchief filled with dirt to protect himself,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who presented the Purple Heart medal to Shepherd’s family.

Vintage photos sit on a table
Photos memorializing late World War I Private Charles Shepherd sit on display in the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul on Thursday. Shepherd was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his service, and his medal was accepted by his son, Larry Shepherd.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The historic battle in which Shepherd fought led to the end of World War I on Nov. 11, five days after Shepherd was taken to the hospital for treatment, Klobuchar said.

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“Five days later, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was signed, because of millions of heroes like private Shepherd, the war was won, we now observe that anniversary as Veterans Day,” she said.

Shepherd recovered and came back to the U.S. He and his wife Dessa had three children.

Shepherd’s son Larry, a Vietnam War veteran, accepted the medal on his father's behalf during a ceremony Thursday in St. Paul. He said his father had health issues after returning from war.

A veteran holds a Purple Heart medal
Larry Shepherd, son of late World War I Private Charles Shepherd, holds his father’s Purple Heart medal during an awards ceremony in the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“Dad suffered from PTSD. And he had problems breathing in his entire life. He would sit in a chair … and he would breathe so hard,” Larry Shepherd said. “And he’d just pass out because he couldn't get breath in.”

The Purple Heart was not awarded during World War I, but the award that was originally started by President George Washington was revived in 1932 and eligibility was extended to anyone who killed or wounded in war since April 5, 1917, Klobuchar said.

“I believe that it is never too late to honor the bravest among us,” Klobuchar said. “So when Larry reached out to our office in August, to request assistance in securing a Purple Heart for his dad it was our honor to help.”

Charles Shepherd died at age 77 in 1971.

A medal and certificate
Private Charles Shepherd’s Purple Heart is displayed next to a memorial in the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News