LYNNWOOD — A chair was ready for Edgar Shepherd.
Two shiny birthday balloons floated above it, attached by strings to the back.
It took him several minutes to walk from the door of the Lynnwood Elks Lodge to the chair. Not because the distance was great, or because, at 100 years old, he admits he moves slower than he once did.
Shepherd was waylaid by hugs, handshakes and a few kisses on the cheek from friends and family.
The World War II veteran, who survived the sinking of a Navy ship in 1943 and raised a family that honors his humor as well as his heroism, celebrated his 100th birthday on the Fourth of July.
Shepherd waved from a float during the parade in Edmonds Wednesday. Then he gathered with loved ones at a post-parade barbecue and party at the Elks Lodge. He shared a long table with four generations of his family, including his brother, daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Friends sat around other tables.
“These are all my friends and family,” he said, gesturing around the room. “The nicest people in the world.”
Shepherd put on a new blue T-shirt after he took his seat. White letters stated, “It took me 100 years to look this good.” A photo display showed him wearing a nearly identical shirt last year, with 99 instead of 100. The display also had black-and-white photographs of Shepherd as a child and as a lanky young man in uniform.
Tom Shepherd, 86, was about 10 years old when Edgar, his older brother, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He remembers when his family learned that the ship he was on had been sunk in battle. Tom didn’t know right away whether his brother had survived.
“Ed did great things in the war,” said Tom Shepherd, who served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force. “He is a hero. I don’t know if you could get kids today to do what he did.”
Edgar Shepherd survived the sinking of the USS Helena in the Battle of Kula Gulf. The light cruiser, which had come through the Pearl Harbor attack, was tasked with protecting other ships in the South Pacific during the Guadalcanal campaign.
The Helena went down on July 6, 1943. Nearly 170 crewmen died. Shepherd was part of a group that clung to a lifeboat.
He kept a dollar bill signed by the sailors who survived. It was one of two bills he had in his pocket at the time. He used the other bill, a five, to pay for telegrams so they could tell their families they were alive.
Shepherd was born in Pennsylvania, one of four brothers. He joined the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He’d previously worked for a company that made guns, which were used on ships where he served. On the USS Helena, he worked in the plotting room, which included the control system for the guns. He also fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
After finishing his time at sea, he helped start a Navy reserve center in Colorado before moving to California to help his uncle open a doughnut shop. He got a job in Los Angeles at an electrical company where he worked for 24 years.
A friend persuaded him to visit Seattle, and Shepherd bought a house in Edmonds. He lives there with daughter Paula Kilbourne.
Paula’s daughter, Terri Kilbourne, said Shepherd, her grandfather, is the glue of the family. He welcomes everyone with open arms and loves to tell stories. He enjoys watching episodes of “M*A*S*H” and eating a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats. He’s steady and generous. Though his hearing is going, he’s never lost his sense of humor. Terri Kilbourne calls him “Pops.”
“If you say you’re going to do something, do it,” she said. “What I learned from him is to stay true and be patient and follow through.”
She once offered to take him whitewater rafting. He turned her down. She asked if he didn’t think she’d be a good guide.
That’s not it, he told her. He clung to a rubber raft, adrift in dark waters after the USS Helena sank. He wasn’t interested in getting on a raft again.
On Wednesday, red, white and blue streamers, balloons and stars decorated the Elks Lodge. Guests cheered loudly when Shepherd arrived. They came over, one at a time throughout the party, to talk and tell him happy birthday. Handwritten notes on a poster wished him a wonderful year and many more birthdays to come.
Shepherd wasn’t too fussed about the occasion.
“I have it every year,” he said. “Only they give me a different number.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org