Much has been written regarding the Chaplain’s clock, seen on display in the Arizona Memorial Museum, which belonged to Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick (Chaplain Corps), and was recovered from the USS Arizona, but little is found regarding the man himself.
Kirkpatrick was born on July 5, 1887, in Cozad, NE, a boomtown along the Platte River that was founded 15 years prior when the Union Pacific Railroad was promoting settlement along its westward lines. His family later moved to Colorado Springs, which was then undergoing an economic boom following the 1891 discovery of gold near Cripple Creek.
Having graduated from Colorado Springs High School in 1905, Kirkpatrick went on to attend Colorado College. While at CC, he appeared twice in the student yearbook. His nickname was “Kirk” and his motto was “Nothing is so popular as goodness.” In 1911, the statement “I have digged and drunk water,” was placed next to his graduation photo. It was noted that he was president of the Student Volunteer Band; vice president of Pearsons Literary Society; assistant editor of the Tiger, CC’s newspaper; and general secretary of the YMCA. From the history of Navy chaplains, obtained through the National Archives, it is said that Kirkpatrick graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1918 with a bachelor of divinity degree and joined the Navy six days later. He married Genevieve M. Burnet in 1923 and had one child, a son born in 1932.
As Kirkpatrick was beginning to embark on his clerical career, the United States was several months into the “War to End all Wars.” The United States Navy, which at the time the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, had only 40 chaplains on active duty, was gearing up to handle the spiritual needs of the men who rushed to heed Uncle Sam’s call. The Navy commissioned 107 chaplains in Kirkpatrick’s class of 1918.
Kirkpatrick immediately went to the front in France, where the presence of the American Expeditionary Force was beginning to alter the balance of forces on the ground in favor of the Western democracies. During this period, Kirkpatrick was among six Navy chaplains who had shore duty.
Kirkpatrick then became chaplain of the USS Utah, flagship of the U.S. Naval forces that operated in the Mediterranean Sea, and went on “goodwill” trips to the then Soviet Union and Turkey. He was then transferred to the Pacific fleet, and throughout the inter-war years called various ships and ports of call in Hawaii, Samoa, the Philippines, and China, home.
Beginning in September 1925, Kirkpatrick was appointed fleet chaplain and was assigned to the port city of Chefoo, China, where our Pacific fleet was seasonally based. There, in addition to conducting “divine services,” he was responsible for organizing activities to help educate and enhance the general morale of sailors and officers, and to keep them from engaging in narcotics, gambling, and prostitution. In a 1926 letter to a fellow clergyman, Kirkpatrick declared that, “Chefoo is a moral cesspool in spite of all. Enlisted men have only the YMCA as a wholesome recreation center. Five tennis courts are available, and an outdoor basketball court.” Kirkpatrick also complained to his colleague that there was little entertainment available for “liberty parties” from harboring vessels, which sometimes numbered almost 2,000 men. “So you see,” wrote Kirkpatrick, “it’s a great fight we have here.”
In 1927, American lives and property were threatened by the unrest then developing in China. For his service in the “Yangtze Campaign,” Kirkpatrick was decorated.
In the 1930’s, Kirkpatrick served stateside and in Samoa. He was slated for retirement on July 14, 1941, but graciously decided to hang on for one last assignment during the tense pre-war period that was already being described as a “national emergency.” He reported for duty aboard the USS Arizona September 13, 1940 and was promoted to Captain July 1, 1941; he had only 15 months on board at the time the ship sunk. His primary duty was Chaplain. His collateral duties included Government Insurance, Entertainment, Editor of the Ship’s paper and Education Officer.
On Friday, December 5, 1941, Kirkpatrick, wrote prophetically to his friend and fellow chaplain of the USS North Carolina, "This is a tense week with us out here, and before you get this it will be decided one way or another, doubtless."
Kirkpatrick’s battle station was Forward Dressing Station (Sick Bay). That is coded 11 on p/ 371 of the book “Battleship Arizona – an Illustrated History” by Honorary Member, Paul Stillwell. This battle station is two levels below the tubes of Turret #1. The tremendous explosion which destroyed the ship came about when the powder and 14” magazines for Turrets I and II exploded. The Chaplain’s body was not recovered. He is still among the approximate 900 still entombed. Kirkpatrick’s hometown is listed Broken Bow, Nebraska.
Thomas Kirkpatrick was one of the two Navy chaplains who died that day. The other was Father Aloysius Schmitt on the USS Oklahoma. These two were the first U.S. chaplains to give their lives in World War II. Today at the visitor’s center at Pearl Harbor, one can see a large plaque that says, “Dedicated to the glory of God and the memory of Capt. Thomas L. Kirkpatrick, CHC, USN, Chaplain, USS Arizona; Lt. Alousius H. Schmidt, CHC, USN, Chaplain, USS Oklahoma; who gave their lives in the service of their country, 7 December 1941.” Kirkpatrick was also memorialized with the dedication of the destroyer escort USS Kirkpatrick (DE-318), which was launched by his widow on June 5, 1943, and which remained in service until 1960.
NOTE: The clock was stopped at 0805 when the bomb dropped from a plane piloted by Hideo Maki from carrier Kaga scored a hit on the faceplate of Turret IV. By that time, Kirkpatrick had proceeded forward to his battle station in the sick bay and was KIA by the hit at 0806 made by a high level bomber piloted by Lieutenant Commander Tadashi Kusmi from carrier Hiryu. This 0806 hit destroyed the USS Arizona and caused most of our 1177 casualties. That was the heaviest loss of life on any one ship in the history of the U. S. Navy. Ours was in port. The heavy cruiser Indianapolis lost 883 at sea; the heaviest loss at sea.
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