First Army Chief of Chaplains

Axton“The National Defense Act of 1920 authorized the Office of the Chief of Chaplains. Also in 1920, the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps became an official branch in the Army.

“Chaplain (Colonel) John Thomas Axton, USA (July 28, 1870 – July 20, 1934) was an American Army officer who served as the First Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army from 1920 to 1928.”1

“Born at Salt Lake City, Utah, July 28, 1870, he received his D.D. degree at Middlebury, Vermont, 1919; Usinus College, Pennsylvania, and Elon College, North Carolina, 1923. He was General Secretary, YMCA, 1893-1902.

“He was appointed a Chaplain, United States Army, with the rank of Captain, 1912; promoted to Major, 1917, and appointed Colonel, Chief of Chaplains, July 15, 1920.

“He retired due to disability in the line of duty and thereafter served as Chaplian, Rutgers University, 1928-32. He served twice in the Philippine and on the Mexian Border; at the Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, New Jersey, during World War I, in charge of social, philanthropic and religious organizations.

“He officiated at the internment of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921.

“He is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Jane B. Axton (1869-1958), is buried with him.

‘He said he felt quite well, thank you.’ The War Department was not so sure. It was said the War Department was anxious to be rid of him because he had agitated for higher rank for his comrades in arms and prayer. Upon this the War Department did not comment but ordered him to Walter Reed Hospital for examination. He went unwillingly—and last week Colonel John T. Axton, Chief of Army Chaplains, was retired as of next April. Secretary of War Davis wrote him a letter expressing regret that he had been found ‘physically incapacitated for active duty.’

“To succeed Colonel Axton, who is a 57-year-old Congregationalist, the Senate was asked to confirm Lieutenant Colonel Edmund P. Easterbrook, 62-year-old Methodist Episcopalian. Chagrined, Col. Axton announced that he would join the staff of Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N. J.)”2

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More photos of Chaplain Axton can be found on our Chief of Chaplains page.

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Photo from the Library of Congress photo archives.

Text from the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Facebook page.

2  Arlington National Cemetery Website (unofficial).

 

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