Jesse E. Burkheart
Tech Sergeant
U. S. Army
WWII US Military
Dates of Service: 01/09/1944 - 08/14/1946
Chief Baker, 123rd Quartermaster Baker Company
Audio Samples

Jesse was born in Knobel, Arkansas to Layman Burkheart, a sharecropper, and Millie Spry Burkheart. He was the second of nine children. By age six Jesse was helping his father in the fields where he plowed, chopped and picked cotton. "I had a tow sack and had a strap on it. I picked about ten, twelve pounds of cotton every week," he remarks. His mother cooked on a wood stove, their meals often consisting of beans and cornbread, rabbits his father killed, and pork preserved in a smokehouse. They had neither electricity, nor running water. They took baths in a washtub set in the sun all day to warm the water, then carried inside. On Saturday nights, Jesse went into town - nine miles away, often hitchhiking but never failing to find someone to give him a ride - where he could see a movie for 25 cents. On other nights the Burkhearts enjoyed music in their four-room home, where nine persons shared two bedrooms. His mother was adept at playing fiddle and guitar as well as the piano and accordion. Jesse played guitar "a little" at square dances. On some Saturday nights the family would visit "Preacher Simmons" who had a radio. There they would listen to the "Grand Ole Opry". "We'd go over there and watch the radio," he says of listening to the program. On Sundays they attended Salem Baptist Church. He learned to drive in a 1936 Ford pickup truck, hauling cotton. Millie died in childbirth of the last child, Mazie. Four months later, Layman succumbed to a virus. Three of the children, including Jesse went to the paternal grandparents, Charlie and Maddie Burkheart. The others grew up in the home of their maternal grandparents, "Grandpa" and Belle Wagster Nettles. When he was 15 Jesse and a brother worked for a year on an uncle's farm. Jesse left after a dispute and moved in with a man named Arthur Foster for whom he was to pick cotton. One of their children was Esther Foster, a schoolmate. Jesse lived with the Fosters for ten years. "I just stayed there and kept working," he recalls. His pay was a dollar a day. Meanwhile, in addition to living in the same house with Esther he went to school with her, first at Tipperary, a one-room school for first to eighth grades. Jesse and Esther married in 1941. He was rocking their daughter when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At first deferred for his farm work, he was drafted on January 9, 1944, and took basic training at Camp Hood, near Killeen, Texas. After completing basic in April of 1944 he shipped out to the Pacific from Seattle, Washington on the USS Gage, getting terribly seasick on the 12-day voyage. He was stationed on Saipan, where he was assigned as a baker and promoted to tech sergeant. Meanwhile, an allotment of his pay, about $40 or $50 was going home to Esther. Jesse baked breads and donuts for American forces on three islands: Saipan, Tinian and Rota. His brother ran the laundry company on Guam. Jesse occasionally went there to see him. After work the men played baseball. They also listened to the Japanese radio propagandist, Tokyo Rose, who played "good music". One night Japanese planes flew above them. Amid air raid warnings Jesse jumped in a foxhole. Pilots strafed "three or four of the barracks", but caused no casualties. Jesse left Saipan in July of 1946, sailing to America on the USS Buchanan, a hospital ship turned into a troop ship. He worked in the bakery during the voyage to the States. He was discharged on August 14, 1946. Jesse's marriage to Esther ended and he later married Dora Calhoun in 1946. (They would have three daughters: Judy, Carolyn Ann and Patricia). He remained on the Calhoun farm for three years, then bought a sawmill. He later moved to Shreveport, and worked in the oil fields as a carpenter's helper and an ironworker. Then he joined the Shreveport Police Department on March 3, 1953, beginning a 20-year career in law enforcement. Once, he arrested Hank Williams. "Took him up to jail and he played the guitar for us. He was drunk. Man he was funny as a clown," he says. He remarks that Elvis Presley "never was any problem." One morning, he and his partner spotted Bob Hope walking around the courthouse. The policemen toured the movie star-comedian through town then treated him to breakfast at Nankings. "That tickled him because somebody bought his breakfast," Jesse says.