A brief history

John G. Burkhalter was born in Thomasville, Georgia on July 23, 1909. While details concerning his early years are hard to come by, it is well known that John was very personable and athletic. At age 16, John boxed professionally for eight years, training and fighting under the name "Jacky Mills." In high school, John was a member of the Miami high school football team. He was offered a full scholarship to play football for the University of North Carolina Tarheels, but the offer was rescinded when UNC learned of his non-amateur status in the ring. In 1932, John heeded a call to preach the Gospel and retired from professional athletics. He was officially ordained a southern baptist minister in the summer of 1935 and was immediately named senior pastor of the West Flagler Park Baptist Church in Miami, Florida. On May 1, 1936, John married his high school sweetheart, miss Mable Money.

In 1939, John enrolled at the University of Miami, taking classes in-between his demanding roles as pastor and husband. In June of 1942, John graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. Upon graduation, John began a military career, enlisting in the United States Army. While in the army, John graduated from the Chaplain’s school at Harvard. Over the next two years, he served stints in Phoenix, Washington, Cape Cod, and Boston. In 1943, He was assigned to the 1st infantry division in Wales, England.

The "Fighting First"
John Burkhalter was a proud member of the legendary First Infantry.

"The First is one of America's most famous divisions. In World War I, it was the first American division to land in France. In World War II, it was hand-picked for the tough assignment of the invasion of North Africa and capture of Oran. After cleaning up in North Africa, the First hit the beaches of Sicily at Gela on July 10 and a little more than a year later its famed infantry regiments piled ashore in Normandy near Colleville-sur-Mer. On the beaches, the First ran into an extra German division which had been shipped to the area two days before the invasion for maneuvers. The First overcame the opposition and pushed inland.

The boys proudly wear a No. 1 on their arm patches. The battle record of the First Infantry Division is one of the epics of the war, for wherever the fighting has been the heaviest, the First Division usually has been in the middle of it. They are still "The Fighting First from hell to victory."

A perfect match

I don’t know how or why John Burkhalter was assigned to the First Infantry, but they couldn’t have received a person who more closely matched their mindset or character. Rev. Burkhalter was a stern and silent warrior who would prove to be a valuable asset for the allied cause. A documentary written about him described him this way,

"One voice was singing clear and strong above the others in the Army squad tent . . It was the voice of a man who looks (and lives) like a combat chaplain. In appearance Chaplain John G. Burkhalter. . . is more than a match for the toughest combat soldier. He stands before his congregation in a faded fatigue uniform, feet braced, chest thrown out, jaw thrust forward. His strong-looking hands hold firmly to the hymn book.

He stands there, a powerful figure, his eyes meeting every man's glance like a boxer looking for an opening. When he talks he speaks like a coach addressing a group of athletes in training. He doesn't harangue or plead or scold. His words carry his own conviction and confidence in what he is saying. This is the way to train for the Kingdom of God, he implies in his manner, hands on hips, head thrust forward slightly. These are the things to do. This is how to do them."

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