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John Morrison Birch (May 8, 1918August 25, 1945) was an Americanmarker military intelligence officer and a Baptist Missionary in World War II who was shot by armed supporters of the Communist Party of China. Some politically conservative groups within the United States consider him to be a martyr and the first victim of the Cold War. The John Birch Society, an American conservative organization formed 13 years after his death, is named in his honor. His parents joined the society as life members.

Early life

Birch was born in Landourmarker, a hill station in the Himalayas in northern Indiamarker; both his parents were missionaries. In 1920, when he was two, the family returned to the United Statesmarker. He was reared in New Jerseymarker and Macon, Georgiamarker, in the Southern Baptist tradition, along with his five younger siblings. He received his high school diploma from Lanier High School for Boys, now Central High Schoolmarker. He graduated from Southern Baptist-affiliated Mercer Universitymarker in Macon in 1939. "He was always an angry young man, always a zealot," said a classmate many years later. He felt he was "called to defend the faith, and he alone knew what it was." In his senior year at the university he organized a student group to identify cases of heresy by professors, such as references to evolution.

Missionary work

While at Mercer, he decided to become a missionary, and enrolled in the Bible Baptist Seminary at Fort Worth, Texasmarker. After completing a two-year curriculum in a single year, he sailed for China in 1940. Arriving in Shanghai, he began intensive study of Mandarin Chinese. After six months of training he was assigned to Hangzhoumarker, at the time outside the area occupied by the Japanese fighting in the Second Sino-Japanese War. However, the attack on Pearl Harbormarker in December 1941 ended that: the Japanese sent a force to Hangzhou to arrest him. He and other Christian missionaries fled inland to eastern China. Cut off from the outside world, he began trying to establish new missions in Zhejiangmarker province.

Military career

In April 1942 Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his crew crash-landed in China after the Tokyo raid. They had taken off from an aircraft carrier, but flew from Tokyo to China because of lack of fuel, planning to land as best they could. After bailing out, they were rescued by sympathetic Chinese and smuggled by river into Zhejiang province. Birch was told of the survivors, and went to meet them. He assisted them to safety and then helped locate and direct them to friendly territory.

When Doolittle arrived in Chongqingmarker, he told Colonel Claire Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers, about Birch and his help. Chennault said he could use an American for intelligence duties who could speak Chinese and knew the country well. Chennault commissioned Birch as a first lieutenant, although Birch said in a book later that he was willing to be put in as a private.

Birch joined the Fourteenth Air Force on its formation in 1942, and was later seconded to the OSS. He stated he would be willing to be accepted into the OSS only if the OSS agreed that he was allowed to work as normally as he had before. He built a formidable intelligence network of sympathetic Chinese informants, supplying Chennault with information on Japanese troop movements and shipping, often performing dangerous incognito 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." Urged to take a leave of absence, he 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.

V-J Day on August 14, 1945 signaled the end of formal hostilities, but under terms of the Japanese surrender the Japanese Army was ordered by the United States 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 US 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 reach Allied personnel in a Japanese prison camp, they were stopped by Chinese Communists near Xi'anmarker. 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 imprisoned but released a short time later. Birch was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Medal.


Birch is known today mainly by the society that bears his name. 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, Texasmarker, is named The John Birch Hall. A small street in a housing development outside Boston is also named for him.

See also


  • I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, autobiography by James "Jimmy" Doolittle, ISBN 0-553-58464-2
  • Mission to Yenan: American Liaison with the Chinese Communists 1944–1947, Carolle J. Carter, ISBN 0-8131-2015-2
  • The Secret File on John Birch, James Hefley, Hannibal Books, 1995 (updated version), ISBN 0-929292-80-4

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