“Right standard rudder …”
Brownwood Middle School history teacher Merle Kilpatrick hasn’t forgotten the commands he called out as a shipboard naval officer as he directed the helmsman.
Kilpatrick, 57, served in the Navy for 11 years and held various assignments on several ships. Kilpatrick left the Navy in 1994 and is in his 15th year at the middle school. Kilpatrick was a coach and teacher for the first seven years at the Brownwood school, and has been exclusively in the classroom for the last seven.
Kilpatrick said he sometimes tells stories to his students about his military experiences and tries to make them relevant to the subject matter, although, he said, he doesn’t try to push the military.
He said he tells his students, “We study history because we look back at things people of our country have done that maybe weren’t the best things to do,” he said.
“I just like being able to talk about why we’ve done some of the things we’ve done in the history of the U.S. I try to emphasize the things we’ve done to try to fix the things that weren’t so good.”
History has a tendency to repeat itself, Kilpatrick said, and those who don’t learn from history will likely make the same mistakes.
Kilpatrick, who is from Memphis, Texas, attended West Texas State University in Canyon, where he played football. Teaching is in the family — his father and father-in-law were teachers, and his wife, Patti, teaches language arts in the classroom next to his. His son, Lance, teaches in Tide Haven near Bay City; his daughter, Erin, teaches in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Kilpatrick’s first teaching job was in Odonnell, Texas near Lubbock, the home of the late actor Dan Blocker - Hoss Cartwright on the television western “Bonanza.” He worked as athletic director and head football coach for three of his six years there.
The Kilpatricks grew weary of the dust of the cotton patch and decided it was time for a change. He joined the Navy and earned a commission by attending Officer Candidate School.
After leaving active duty, Kilpatrick taught for a year in Virginia before taking a job at the Brownwood middle school.
On Friday — the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. — Kilpatrick showed one of his classes a documentary about one of the fire companies that responded to the World Trade Center.
He has shown the video in previous years. His current students were in kindergarten on Sept. 11, 2001, Kilpatrick said. “I don’t have to get on a whole lot of people for talking” when he shows the videos, Kilpatrick said,
Kilpatrick said he and his family visited New York City in 1988 and went to the top of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. As he watches the video, he said, he recalls the view from the 110th story — and he wonders what view people had 13 years later as they were trapped at the top of the building.