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Military Biography WWII Captain John M. Birch Part 1

About the World War II Captain John M. Birch, hero and namesake of the fiercly anti-communist John Birch society.

ROLL CALL: A MILITARY WHO'S WHO

CAPT. JOHN M. BIRCH (U.S., W.W. II)

He was just one of thousands of young Americans who served heroically in the Chinese theater in W.W. II, and his name would probably have remained in obscurity had not Robert Welch picked him to symbolize one of the most aggressive anti-Communist, ultraconservative organizations of modern times--the John Birch Society. Welch chose his martyr well, for Birch was not only a real hero, in every sense of the word, but a God-fearing man as well.

But there remains considerable doubt among those who knew him best whether Birch would have lent his name to any extremist group, be it right or left.

John Morrison Birch was an India-born, Georgia-raised Baptist missionary serving in China when the U.S. declared war on Japan in 1941. By then the Japanese, already controlling many of China's provinces, vented their hate on American missionaries by burning their missions and interning their teachers.

Birch, number one on the Japanese most-wanted list, barely escaped capture by fleeing to eastern China. Cut off from the outside world and reduced to living on $2 a month, he was trying to establish new missions in Chekiang Province when he stumbled across Capt. James Doolittle and his crew who were hiding out in the area. After bombing Tokyo they had been forced to crash-land when their plane ran out of fuel. Birch not only led them to safety but also guided other air crews involved in the same mission back to friendly territory.

Local Chinese were not so fortunate. It is estimated that over 20,000 men, women, and children who helped the Tokyo raiders were slaughtered by vengeful Japanese. Birch, enraged by these atrocities, volunteered for the army.

Doolittle was impressed by the tall, gaunt young southerner and recommended him to Maj. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault, commander of American Volunteer Forces in China. Chennault was organizing a complement of old China hands who spoke the language, knew the customs, and could live on a diet of bamboo shoots, if necessary, to form a radio-intelligence network to provide his command with up-to-date reports of enemy troop movements. He inducted Birch as a second lieutenant into the China Air Task Force of the U.S. Army on July 4, 1942. This group, in 1943, became the 14th Air Force.

Chennault later said: "John Birch was the pioneer of our field-intelligence net....For three years he worked steadily in the field with only brief respites for medical treatment. He refused all leave or temporary duty in the U.S. with the comment 'I'll leave China when the last Jap is gone.'"

Birch's first mission was to survey existent airfields in eastern China and certify the amount of fuel cached on each strip. Later the same year (1943), accompanied by two Chinese radio operators and six coolies with portable radios, he infiltrated Japanese lines to contact guerrillas operating along the Yangtze River, who helped him establish a line of radio stations to relay information on enemy ship movements up and down the river.

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