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Elmer Ellsworth Kirkpatrick

Military Veteran, Manhattan Engineering District Deputy EngineerLos Alamos, NM

Japan
Manhattan Project VeteranMilitary VeteranSpecial Engineer Detachment

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth Kirkpatrick, Jr. was a United States Army Corps of Engineers Officer and a Manhattan Engineering District Deputy Engineer. He was the officer in charge of Tinian Construction. Here he was the liaison of Groves with the USAAF and the USN at Tinian, for ensuring project facility construction and material movement.

Early Life

Elmer E Kirkpatrick, Jr was born in Yukon, Oklahoma on August 17, 1905. In 1929, he graduated from West Point and was commissioned in the Quartermaster Corps. He then married Edith Louise ‘Edie Wee’ Koelsch, and began his service at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, as a Constructing Quartermaster. After earning his Civil Engineering degree at Carnegie Tech, he worked on a variety of construction projects assignments in Arkansas, Kentucky, West Point, and the Panama Canal Zone.

On February 19, 1942, he transferred to the Corps of Engineers and began a variety of assignments. He became the Chief of Staff of the Northwest Service Command (NWSC), and participated in ALCAN (Alaska – Canadian Highway) and CANOL (Canadian-American-Norman Oil pipeline) projects. Upon completion of this NWSC duty he was invited by General Groves to join the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project

In September of 1944, General Groves brought Kirkpatrick onto the Manhattan Project. Groves knew and respected Kirkpatrick because he was a long-time associate of Groves on earlier Army construction projects. Groves’ initial purpose was to prepare Kirkpatrick to monitor development of the overseas operational base. By working with Groves, Kirkpatrick spent considerable time at Los Alamos, Wendover Field, and Kirtland Field. He had a variety of responsibilities including assisting in the inspections of bomb prototypes, observing the training of the 509th Composite Group, and helping to plan the shipment of essential equipment and bomb components to Tinian.

At the end of March 1945, Kirkpatrick was deployed to the Mariana Islands to help develop project facilities at North Field, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. As soon as Kirkpatrick arrived on Guam, he gave Admiral Nimitz a letter from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, that explained his mission.

Kirkpatrick also delivered a similar letter from Gen. Arnold to Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay. To maintain the secrecy of his mission, Kirkpatrick was identified as a Special Representative from the War Department General Staff to the Twentieth Air Force and its XXI Bomber Command, reporting to General LeMay. He was named an Assistant Operations Officer of the Bomber Command and quartered with the 313th Bombardment Wing, located at North Field on Tinian.

Kirkpatrick devoted April and May of 1945 to expediting facilities construction. A typical problem was a delay in unloading ships at Tinian harbor. Kirkpatrick notified Groves, who went to Admiral Purnell.

Another problem arose in constructing facilities on Iwo Jima: transferring an atomic bomb from one B-29 to another. Kirkpatrick had arranged to have the facilities for transportation completed by July 1, but an inspection by a Project Officer there revealed that virtually nothing had been done. Kirkpatrick informed Captain Hill, and prompt action was taken.

In early May, Kirkpatrick came back to the U.S. for conferences with Groves, that focused on working on the design and delivery of the bomb. When Kirkpatrick returned to Tinian toward the end of the month, he found the first elements of the 509th arriving there. By mid-July, all elements of the group had reached Tinian. Kirkpatrick’s mission was complete with all of the 509th CG facilities ready for operations; however he remained at Tinian to maintain and keep the USAAF and USN command liaison channels open, in case more construction or modifications were needed.

Later Years

After the war, Kirkpatrick went to Oak Ridge, as the Deputy District Engineer of the Manhattan District. In March of 1947 he was posted back to West Point as the Assistant Chief of Staff, Logistics (G-4). He then returned to Washington, D.C., in July 1949 as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. After attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1952, he led the Japan Construction Agency in Tokyo until 1955. He retired in 1957.

He earned three Legions of Merits and the Army Commendation Ribbon. As a civilian, he taught at the University of Florida in the College of Architecture. Colonel Kirkpatrick died on March 26, 1990 in Jacksonville, Florida. He is interred at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery.

Information and photographs provided by Scott Muselin.

Elmer Ellsworth Kirkpatrick's Timeline
1905 Aug 17th Born in Yukon, Oklahoma.
1929 Graduated from West Point.
1942 Feb 19th Transferred to the Corps. of Engineers.
1944 Sep Began working on the Manhattan Project, with General Leslie Groves.
1945 Mar Deployed to the Mariana Islands.
1947 Mar Posted back to West Point.
1949 Jul Returned to Washington D.C. as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.
1952 Graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
19521955 Led the Japan Construction Agency.
1957 Retired.
1990 Mar 26th Passed away in Jacksonville, Florida.

ALCAN and CANOL Project Maps (WWII)

Map of the CANOL Pipeline and ALCAN Highway

CANOL Pipeline Project Roster- Elmer is listed here.

West Point Biography. 

Elmer

(Left to Right): Ramsey, Parsons, Kirkpatrick, Doll and Ashworth on a Tinian Patio.

Elmer (3rd row from the right).

Special Weapons ID Card, 1949.

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