By EMILY GUEVARA
YouTube Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xf3ZIKSo-dY
When 94-year-old World War II veteran Wayne Kirkpatrick rolled up in his wheelchair to his new home, he wasted no time in giving an assessment of the building.
“You've got a nice place here,” he said as representatives from The American Legion and Disabled American Veterans looked on.
A Purple Heart recipient, Kirkpatrick moved into the Watkins-Logan-Garrison Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler on Tuesday.
He was the first resident to make the location home after a dedication ceremony in November. The home is one of eight in the state designed to provide long-term nursing care to Texas veterans, their spouses and parents who have lost children in military service.
Built through a partnership between the Texas Veterans Land Board and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it can serve 100 residents.
Unlike the others, the Tyler home offers community-style living with 10 cottages that each have a central fireplace, dining room, living room and kitchen. Ten rooms with private baths are located off of the central area.
“It feels awesome,” Donna Huffman with the Texas Veterans Land Board said of the first move-in. “That's what we're here to do is to take care of our veterans and to give him the best of the best in nursing home care.”
After cutting the ribbon to the front of the cottage, Kirkpatrick went inside where staff members were waiting to greet him.A LIFE OF SERVICE
He accepted a gift basket and two quilts, then moved on to look at his room. The rooms are simple but nice. A bed, television, chair and bathroom with shower are in each. Kirkpatrick looked around the area briefly before getting to the particulars.
“Where am I going to eat?” he said.
A staff member showed Kirkpatrick to the dining area, which features a large table that can seat 12 adjacent to a brick fireplace.
“I hope I like it,” Kirkpatrick said of his new home. “I think I will. I've been at places that I didn't want to be.”
“But you're going to want to be here, sir,” a staff member said.
Born Willard Wayne Kirkpatrick, the veteran spent his life in Hawkins except for his military service.A NEW HOME
Inducted into the U.S. Army in October 1942, he trained in San Antonio and other locations before getting stationed in Honolulu. His other stops included the Philippines and Okinawa.
His son, Wayne Kirkpatrick Jr., said his father served in a postal unit handling the mail, but he also participated in missions.
“He didn't have a cushy job in a post office, more like a tent,” his son said. While on the island of Okinawa, a bomb hit a house that he was in and shrapnel is still lodged in his back from that experience. That earned him a Purple Heart.
The sounds coming from 16-inch guns and shrapnel bombs damaged his hearing along with decades of work in heavy industry, his son said.
Although Kirkpatrick cannot hear well, he does remember and talks often about his military service these days, a stark contrast from when he was younger and seldom broached the topic, his son said.
After the war ended, Kirkpatrick returned to Hawkins where his wife Itha Marcile Ellison Kirkpatrick and family were. The couple already had two children and a third came after the war.
Kirkpatrick went to work in the oilfields then helped build a gasoline plant in Hawkins. He distinguished himself on the construction job and was hired to work as a plant operator, a position he had until his retirement.
His son described him as an easygoing man, but not one you wanted to push.
“I've never seen him back up,” Kirkpatrick Jr. said. “If he wasn't backing up, you better not advance because that was the line. He didn't get out and look for trouble, but if trouble came, he was ready for (it).”
Kirkpatrick Jr. said the war bothered his father a lot after he came back.
“He was concerned about the killing he had to do,” he said. “It was kill or be killed, but it really bothered him.”
Kirkpatrick said the new home is different from where he's been living.
“I think it's wonderful,” he said. “It's the best thing I've seen in Tyler yet and I'm glad the government or whoever's sponsoring it has tried to help fellows who've been in misfortune enough to go to war. I know war is needed and I'd do it again, (but) I have a grudge against it.”
His son said he is excited for his father to live in a home like this because of the opportunity for camaraderie.
“I think he's going to be happier there,” he said. “I think he will like being around the veterans. He's an old warrior and I think he'll like it there better.”
Kirkpatrick seemed optimistic too. He already was asking about when other residents were going to move in and apparently had some ideas about how to pass the time.
“Something was said about playing dominoes, playing 42,” he said. “I might have a 42 game once in a while.”