Those who knew Aubrey Kirkpatrick describe him as an unsung war hero and a regular at the Grand Ole Opry who rubbed elbows with Elvis Presley and other legendary artists.
Kirkpatrick, a United States naval officer from Nashville, Tennessee who served in Munda, Solomon Islands during World War II, was battling a progressive lung disease and died on February 10. He was 102.
Evidence of his contribution to Solomon Islands remains in the roads of compacted coral that he helped build as a member of the US Navy’s Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 568.
The Construction Battalions, known as “Seabees”, were responsible for naval infrastructure projects in the Pacific theatres of war.
Kirkpatrick arrived with his unit in Munda, New Georgia in Solomon Islands’ Western Province on May 10, 1944.
They constructed roads and jetties and completed the Munda airstrip, which the Japanese left unfinished when US Marines drove them off the island. The airstrip was later used to launch northward attacks on the enemy.
Kirkpatrick was also sent to Bougainville, Rabaul, the Philippines and islands south of Japan during the war. He was awarded an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Military Ribbon and two Bronze Star Medals, which honour heroic achievements or admirable service in a combat zone.
During his time in the Solomons, Kirkpatrick became acquainted with other men around New Georgia, including World War I US Army veteran John Pratt whom he met in Roviana. Kirkpatrick kept in touch with the descendants of those friends until his death.
Among them was Ashley Wickham, whose father and grandfather knew Kirkpatrick when they were warrant officers in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force.
The stories Kirkpatrick told Mr Wickham included details of the sacrifices of war and descriptions of Solomon Islanders who supplied him with fruits and green coconuts while he was on their shores.
According to one anecdote, Kirkpatrick was so intrigued by the talking parrots some of the locals kept that he asked his friends to find one for him.
They got a boat, equipped it with an engine and cruised in the lagoon for several hours in search of a parrot.
They brought back a bird for Kirkpatrick, but it spoke in the local language — and he didn’t.
Kirkpatrick’s recollections of his time in Munda and other parts of the Solomons were coloured with fondness.
“It was a great honor for me to serve with all of your people — the Wickhams and the Pratts,” he wrote in an email to Mr Wickham in 2009. “A braver and truer army of men you would be proud to soldier with.”
“I thank them all for accepting me as a friend and for their many kindnesses.”
Kirkpatrick’s wife, Pauline Kirkpatrick, died last October. He is survived by his children, Linda Rotella, William Smith and Dorothy Grimes, and seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
By Merinda Valley