Elmer Ellsworth Kirkpatrick, Jr. was born August 17, 1905 in the home of his grandparents in Yukon, Oklahoma. He was the second son born to Dr. Elmer E. and Mrs. Helene Claudia (Spencer) Kirkpatrick. Elmer attended McKinley Elementary and later during World War I participated in the War effort. He attended Central High School in Oklahoma City and joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps during his freshman year. He eventually earned the rank of corporal working as a gunner and Battery clerk with the 189 Field Artillery of the Oklahoma National Guard. In a personal biography, Elmer related that he worked at People’s Drug Store, Owen Drug, and Jerome Cohen’s tire shop while attending school. He graduated in 1924.
Elmer attended a preparatory school for a year at Marion Institute in Marion, Alabama. In May 1925 after taking the entrance exams for attending West Point, he travelled to Fort Sheridan, Illinois where his brother Lewis Spencer Kirkpatrick was stationed. Elmer recalled in a biography that he worked on the post in keeping up with the food and soda fountain. In May 1925 he marched with Spencer’s company to Fort Custer, Michigan and helped to care for the horses along the route. In June, Elmer learned that he would be admitted to West Point.
Elmer entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with his younger brother, John E. Kirkpatrick. The two boys travelled by railroad to Niagara Falls, New York before arriving at West Point on July 1. Although John would eventually join the Navy, Elmer graduated in 1929 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps of the Regular Army in 1929. He married Edith “Edie Wee” Luise Koelsch on June 15.
The couple’s daughter, Patricia, was born June 24, 1930 while the family was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The following year, Elmer attended Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received a Civil Engineering degree. In 1932 he was assigned to Hot Springs, Arkansas where he oversaw construction of the Army/Navy General Hospital. The next year, Elmer was in Harrodsburg, Kentucky erecting the Pioneer Memorial Monument. Afterward, Elmer spent three years assigned to West Point where he worked on construction and expansion of the Academy itself.
After attending the Quartermaster School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Elmer was assigned to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and later Fort Dupont, Delaware. On October 20, 1938, Elmer and Edie Wee’s second child, William Terry, was born at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D. C. Nearly a year later, Elmer became Area Engineer for the Atlantic Sector of the Panama Canal Zone. His work there included overseeing construction for the Army Air Corps through Francis Field, the infantry with Fort Davis, and Coast Artillery with Fort Randolph.
In May 1940 after an illness, Elmer returned to the United States and, after a short stay at Walter Reed Hospital, was assigned to the Construction Division, Office of the Quartermaster General. Initially he served as Special Assistant to the Chief of Construction planning the major nationwide military construction program launched in the Fall 1940. In August, he assumed responsibility for development and negotiation of fixed fee construction contracts and later supervised the staffs of all the field offices involved in military construction. In November 1940, Elmer was assigned to the Ground Troops Section where he was responsible for the Emergency Cantonment and Hospital construction program. When responsibility for military construction was moved from the Quartermaster Corps to the Corps of Engineers in 1942, Elmer chose to transfer to the Corps of Engineers, continuing his work in the Construction Division.
In October 1942, Elmer was sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin as District Engineer. There he managed a $150 million mobilization program constructing airfields, cantonments, and other facilities in northern Michigan and the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing plant which would play a part in the Manhattan Project. Elmer was then assigned in March 1943 as Chief of Operations and Engineering for the Northwest Division of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, under the command of Colonel, and later General, Ludson D. Worsham Northwest Division Engineer. The Division’s role, through its six subordinate Districts, was the completion of the Alaska-Canada Highway (ALCAN) and the Alaskan pipeline (CANOL project). Elmer’s expertise was in accomplishing work with civilian contractors, and he provided direction for contract construction throughout Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In early 1944, General Worsham assumed command of the Northwest Service Command, and Elmer became Chief of Staff and second in command in Whitehorse, Yukon.
In April 1944, Elmer’s family moved to Edmonton and remained there until August when the projects were completed. Elmer spent the majority of his time in Whitehorse or on the road, but was able to join his family occasionally. In September 1944, Elmer was awarded the Legion of Merit for his work on the ALCAN and CANOL projects which, according to the citation, “was successfully accomplished under difficult climatic conditions over rough terrain and in remote places, and is a tribute to the forceful leadership, ingenuity, resourcefulness and energy of Colonel Kirkpatrick.”
Also in 1944, Elmer and his family left Edmonton traveling through Green Mountain Falls, Colorado and the family’s cabin and eventually to Washington, D.C.. Elmer became Special Assistant and Field Inspector for General Leslie R. Groves who headed the Manhattan Project. He directed planning for field facilities needed to deliver an atomic bomb, working with Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, and General Curtis E. LeMay who commanded strategic air operations against Japan. In April 1945 as part of the War Department General Staff, Elmer was attached to the 20th Air Force which would eventually fly the mission to drop the atomic bomb. Throughout 1945, he visited all the installations related to the Manhattan Project and oversaw all aspects related to bomb assembly, loading, and facilities on the island of Tinian located among the Northern Marianas Islands.
On July 16, Elmer returned to the United States to the White Sands Proving Grounds near Alamogordo, New Mexico. There he was part of the team which witnessed the test explosion of an atomic bomb in an experiment known as Trinity. He then returned to the Marianas where he travelled between Guam where Admiral Nimitz had designated the Pacific Fleet headquarters and Iwo Jima which had to be prepared as another possible launching point for the atomic bomb. He would briefly see his brother, John Elson Kirkpatrick, on Guam. The following month on August 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima with a second one dropped on Nagasaki on August 9 with the planes leaving successfully from Tinian. The three weeks following the surrender of Japan, Elmer joined an inspection team to survey bomb damage in Nagasaki.
In November 1945 Elmer became Deputy District Engineer of the Manhattan District which was located at Oak Ridge, Tennessee (also called the Clinton Energy Works). Elmer’s expertise in the preparation of the atomic bomb missions was established so much that in 1946 he travelled to England to advise them on military installations which might have to launch against the Soviet Union. In November, he was promoted to Commanding Officer at Oak Ridge. Beginning in 1947 as the Manhattan District was dissolved in favor of the more civilian organization, the Atomic Energy Commission. In January, Elmer later became Acting Manager of Field Operations for the Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, D.C. and possibly worked with helping the AEC infrastructure until he was assigned to duty at West Point in March. There, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff, Logistics (G-4) with responsibilities for supply, construction, engineering and other logistic services at the Military Academy.
Over the next decade, Elmer returned to Washington, D.C. as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project; worked in Japan on construction of military facilities as Head of the Construction Division for the Far East Command and Army Forces Far East and as Chief, Japan Construction Agency; served as the District Engineer in Jacksonville, Florida, a district was responsible for all U. S. military construction in Florida, Central and South America (as well as Civil Works – flood control, navigation, etc. in Florida), including the construction of the initial facilities for NASA at Cape Canaveral for the U.S. space program; became District Engineer of the Southern District of the Mediterranean Division with its headquarters in Livorno, Italy and oversaw the building of military facilities and civil construction in many places around the world including Italy, Greece, Crete, Turkey and North Africa. On November 1, 1958 Colonel Elmer E. Kirkpatrick retired from the Army as Acting Division Engineer, Mediterranean Division, after over 30 years of active military service. In 1957, he had been at West Point to see his son, Terry, sworn in as a new cadet at West Point. Upon his retirement, Elmer’s military decorations included three Legion of Merit medals.
Elmer’s son, Terry Kirkpatrick, relates that when he father was initially approached while serving in Italy about becoming the Executive Director of the Port Authority in Jacksonville, Florida. Elmer left Europe and bought a home in Jacksonville in 1958. While he was considering whether to open an Architect-Engineer Consulting firm, he began corresponding with the University of Florida in Gainesville and was offered an Assistant Professor post by the College of Architecture. He was hired June 19, 1959 to teach in the Department of Building Construction and granted tenure on May 15, 1962 which was significant for someone without his doctorate let alone a Masters Degree.
Elmer resigned from his teaching position in a letter dated November 12, 1964. He served through the academic trimester that ended April 30, 1965. In 1960, Elmer and Edie Wee moved into a new home in Melrose, Florida. Elmer worked as the architect and general contractor on the house. The couple lived there until 1980 when the couple moved to Wesley Manor in Jacksonville, Florida.
Elmer’s wife of nearly sixty years, Edie Wee died August 15, 1982. Four years later, Elmer met and married Virginia Wright. The two remained married until March 26, 1990 when Elmer died at the Wesley Manor in Jacksonville, Florida. Half of his ashes were scattered into the waters of Melrose Bay, Florida, with the other half interred with Edie Wee’s at the U.S. Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point, New York.