John Birch (missionary)

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John Morrison Birch
John Birch.jpg
Born (1918-05-28)May 28, 1918
Landour, British India (now Uttarakhand, India)
Died August 25, 1945(1945-08-25) (aged 27)
Xuzhou, Jiangsu, China
Nationality American
Alma mater Mercer University
Occupation Missionary, Military intelligence officer
Known for Killed by Chinese communists
Religion Baptist

John Morrison Birch (May 28, 1918 – August 25, 1945) was an American military intelligence officer and Baptist missionary in World War II, who was killed during a confrontation with troops of the Communist Party of China.

The John Birch Society, an American anti-communist organization formed 13 years after his death, was named in his honor by Robert H. W. Welch, Jr., who considered him to be a martyr and the first victim of the Cold War. His parents joined the Society as honorary Life Members.

Early life[edit]

Birch was born to Presbyterian missionaries in Landour, a hill station in the Himalayas now in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, at the time in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. In 1920, when he was two, the family returned to the United States. Birch was raised in Vineland, New Jersey, Floyd County, Georgia,[1] and Macon, Georgia, in the Fundamental Baptist[1] tradition. He graduated from Gore High School in Chattanooga County, followed by Georgia Baptist–affiliated Mercer University in 1939 magna cum laude.[1] "He was always an angry young man, always a zealot", said a classmate many years later. In his senior year at Mercer, he joined a student group to identify cases of heresy by professors, seeking to uphold the Scriptural definition of conversion and other doctrines.[2]

Missionary work[edit]

Birch decided to become a missionary when he was twelve years old. After college, he enrolled in J. Frank Norris' Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute,[1] Fort Worth, Texas. Completing the curriculum in one year, he was sent to China by the World Fundamental Baptist Missionary Fellowship.[1] Arriving in Shanghai in July 1940, he began an intensive study of Mandarin Chinese. After a few months, he was assigned to Hangzhou, an area occupied by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. In October 1941, he left Hangzhou for Shangrao in "Free China." Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the U.S. Army.

Military career[edit]

In April 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his crew bailed out in China after the Tokyo raid. They had flown from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), bombed Tokyo, then flown to the Chinese mainland. After bailing out, they were rescued by Chinese civilians and smuggled by river beyond Japanese lines in Zhejiang province. Birch met them by accident and assisted them.

When Doolittle arrived in Chongqing, he told Colonel Claire Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers, about Birch's help. Chennault said he could use a Chinese-speaking American who knew the country well and he commissioned Birch as a second lieutenant in July 1942 to work as a field intelligence officer, though Birch had expected to work as a chaplain.[citation needed]

Birch served with the China Air Task Force, which became the Fourteenth Air Force on 5 March 1943, and was later seconded to the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He criticized the OSS, wanting only to work for Chennault. He built formidable intelligence networks of sympathetic Chinese informants, supplying Chennault with information on Japanese troop movements and shipping, often performing dangerous field assignments, during which he would brazenly hold Sunday church services for Chinese Christians. In his diary, Major Gustav Krause, commanding officer of the base, noted: "Birch is a good officer, but I'm afraid is too brash and may run into trouble."[3] Urged to take a leave of absence, Birch refused, telling Chennault he would not quit China "until the last Jap" did; he was equally contemptuous of Communists. He was promoted to captain and received the Legion of Merit in 1944.[2]


V-J Day, August 14, 1945, signaled the end of formal hostilities; but, under terms of the Japanese surrender, the Japanese Army was ordered to continue occupying areas it controlled until they could hand power over to the Nationalist government, even in places where the Communist-led government had been the de facto state for a decade. This led to continued fighting as the People's Liberation Army fought to expel all imperial forces, a category it perceived to include U.S. personnel now openly collaborating with the remaining Japanese forces.

On August 25, as Birch was leading a party of Americans, Chinese Nationalists, and Koreans on a mission to gather intelligence in Xuzhou, they were stopped by Chinese Communists in a small town where the Red Army had been fighting Japanese troops. Birch was asked to surrender his revolver; he refused and harsh words and insults were exchanged. Birch was shot and killed; a Chinese Nationalist colleague was also shot and wounded but survived. The rest of the party was taken prisoner and released two months later.


Birch is known today mainly by the controversial society that bears his name although Jimmy Doolittle, who met Birch after Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, said in his autobiography that he was sure that Birch "would not have approved". His name is on the bronze plaque of a World War II monument at the top of Coleman Hill Park overlooking downtown Macon, along with the names of other Macon men who lost their lives while serving in the military. Birch has a plaque on the sanctuary of the First Southern Methodist Church of Macon, which was built on land given by his family, purchased with the money he sent home monthly. A building at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, was named The John Birch Hall by Pastor J. Frank Norris.[4] The "John Birch Reel", a folk dance in which dancers consistently "move to the Right," satirizes John Birch's politics. [5] A small street in Townsend, Massachusetts, John Birch Memorial Drive, is also named for him.[6][citation needed] Senator William Knowland attempted unsuccessfully to obtain posthumous awards for Birch, including the Distinguished Service Medal, but these were not approved on the grounds that the United States was not at war with the Communist Chinese in 1945.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Secret File on John Birch, James & Marti Hefley, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1980, ISBN 0-8423-5862-5
  2. ^ a b "Who Was John Birch?". Time. April 14, 1961. 
  3. ^ Manchester, William (2013). The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972. RosettaBooks. ISBN 9780795335570. , Ch. 13
  4. ^ Stokes, David R. (2011). The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press. p. 325. ISBN 978-1-58642-186-1
  5. ^ "John Birch Reel". YouTube. 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  6. ^ "Maps". Bing Maps. Microsoft Bing. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 


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