Captain John Morrison Birch

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One could argue that World War 2 actually never ended. Sure ,when Japan surrendered on the 15th of August in theory the war ended. Bur only 2 days after Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaim the independence of Indonesia,

 

igniting the Indonesian National Revolution against the Dutch Empire, also involving the Australians and the British.

Then 8 days later, on August 25 1945, Captain John Morrison Birch is murdered by Chinese Communist soldiers in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, China. Which by some is seen as the first casualty of the Cold War.

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John Morrison Birch (May 28, 1918 – August 25, 1945) was an American Baptist minister, missionary, and United States Army captain who was a U.S. military intelligence officer in China during World War II. Birch was killed in a confrontation with Chinese Communist soldiers a few days after the war ended. He was posthumously awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal.

Birch grew up in a devout Southern Baptist home in rural Georgia, and while attending Mercer University in Macon he decided to become a missionary in China. After graduating at the head of his class at Mercer, he enrolled in the Bible Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, where he finished a two-year curriculum in a single year. In the summer of 1940 he sailed for China.

Arriving in Shanghai, Birch promptly commenced intensive study of Mandarin Chinese and displayed such extraordinary aptitude for the language that he was fluent within a couple of months. He spent the following two years traveling about China, preaching, passing out tracts and Bibles, and developing an affection for the Chinese people and a broad network of friends and contacts that would serve him well in what was to follow.

During this time period, the rest of the world was being turned on its ear. Europe had descended into the chaos of another great war, and Japan’s seemingly unstoppable military had driven the British from Singapore, destroyed much of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and routed General MacArthur from the Philippines. While John Birch, as an ordained minister, was exempt from the draft, he was deeply patriotic and wished to help defeat the Japanese, whose troops were rapidly expanding into China. Early in 1942, John Birch applied to the American Military Mission at Chungking, requesting to enlist as a chaplain. Shortly thereafter, an unexpected event completely altered his life.

On an evening in April 1942, Birch was eating in a restaurant in a riverside village in Chekiang province, when he was approached by a man who asked discreetly if he was an American. Birch was then led to a boat in which were concealed several American pilots. He was astonished to learn that the leader of the group was none other than the famous aviator Colonel James H. Doolittle, and that they had parachuted into China after bombing Tokyo. Lacking the fuel to return to base, they and the other crews who had participated in the raid had flown their planes as far inland over China as they could and then bailed out, hoping not to fall behind enemy lines.

Birch helped to lead Colonel Doolittle and his men to safety,after which he received his first military assignment: Find out as much as possible about the whereabouts of the crews of the 15 other planes from Doolittle’s raid, and ensure that they were rescued. Birch immediately set to work via his network of contacts, and was eventually able to locate or account for most of the missing men. A few had been captured or killed by the Japanese, while one plane had strayed far off course and landed in Siberia. However, most of the men were returned safely to their outfits.

Returning to Chungking to report to the American Military Mission, Birch served for a short time as an assistant chaplain, and as interpreter for Colonel Doolittle. However, Birch truly came into his own as a soldier when he began to work as an intelligence officer for General Claire Chennault, who commanded the famous “Flying Tigers” of the 14th Air Force. In this capacity Birch traveled about the Chinese countryside incognito, his small, wiry stature and mastery of the Chinese language enabling him to blend in with the local populace as he slipped back and forth across Japanese lines. Birch succeeded in setting up coastal spotting stations, manned by Chinese friends, to furnish advance warning of Japanese ship and aircraft movements. He located Japanese airfields, munitions dumps, and other strategic targets, and became proficient at calling in American air strikes and then escaping before the Japanese even suspected the presence of infiltrators. His network of contacts and friends developed into a full-fledged intelligence network, which became the “eyes and ears of the 14th Air Force.Often performing dangerous field assignments, during which he would brazenly hold Sunday church services for Chinese Christians.

As the conflict wore on, Birch was promoted to Captain and received numerous commendations, such as the Legion of Merit on July 17 1944.

He was greatly respected by all who knew him for his upright ways. He never smoked, drank, or cursed, and he repeatedly turned down offers for a furlough to return to the U.S. to visit his family, always stating that he could not accept a furlough knowing that there was always another man with a wife and children who needed one more than he.

Captain Birch never did make it home. On August 25, 1945, ten days after the war ended, he was murdered by a band of Chinese communists as he was traveling with a small group of American and Chinese military officers. He and a Chinese officer were taken by force from the group and shot by communist soldiers. The Chinese officer miraculously survived and gave a full account of the deliberate, cold-blood-ed execution. An autopsy of Birch’s body filled in the details: Captain Birch was shot in the leg, then, with his hands tied behind him, in the back of the head execution-style. Finally, his face was savagely slashed with knives, presumably in an attempt to conceal his identity.

Most shocking of all, however, was the fact that the circumstances of Captain John Birch’s death were deliberately covered up by the U.S. government. The reason for the cover-up did not become evident until some years later. On September 5, 1950, California Senator William Knowland announced on the floor of the Senate that the murder of John Birch had been deliberately covered up by communist sympathizers to conceal the true nature of Mao Tse-tung’s “agrarian reformers” who were trying to oust Chiang Kai-shek’s government.

William_F._Knowland_headshot

U.S. Senator William F. Knowland attempted unsuccessfully to obtain posthumous awards for Birch which included the Distinguished Service Cross, but these were not approved on the grounds that the United States was not at war with the Communist Chinese in 1945. Birch received the following military awards:

As well as:Medal of the Armed Forces (Republic of China) and China War Memorial Medal.

Birch is known today mainly by the 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”.

Birch’s 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. He 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. A small street in Townsend, Massachusetts, “John Birch Memorial Drive”, is also named after him.

The War Weary Farmer”

The following was written by Captain John Birch in April 1945, four months before his death.

I should like to find the existence of what my father called “Plain living and high thinking.”

I want some fields and hills, woodlands and streams I can call my own. I want to spend my strength in making fields green, and the cattle fat, so that I may give sustenance to my loved ones, and aid to those neighbors who suffer misfortune; I do not want a life of monotonous paper-shuffling or of trafficking with money-mad traders.

I only want enough of science to enable fruitful husbandry of the land with simple tools, a time for leisure, and the guarding of my family’s health. I do not care to be absorbed in the endless examining of force and space and matter, which I believe can only slowly lead to God.

I do not want a hectic hurrying from place to place on whizzing machines or busy streets. I do not want an elbowing through crowds of impatient strangers who have time neither to think their own thoughts nor to know real friendship. I want to live slowly, to relax with my family before a glowing fireplace, to welcome the visits of my neighbors, to worship God, to enjoy a book, to lie on a shaded grassy bank and watch the clouds sail across the blue.

I want to love a wife who prefers rural peace to urban excitement, one who would rather climb a hilltop to watch a sunset with me than to take a taxi to any Broadway play. I want a woman who is not afraid of bearing children, and who is able to rear them with a love for home and the soil, and the fear of God.

I want of government only protection against the violence and injustices of evil or selfish men.

I want to reach the sunset of life sound in body and mind, flanked by strong sons and grandsons, enjoying the friendship and respect of neighbors, surrounded by fertile fields and sleek cattle, and retaining my boyhood faith in Him who promised a life to come.

Where can I find this world? Would its anachronism doom it to ridicule or loneliness? Is there yet a place for such simple ways in my own America or must I seek a vale in Turkestan where peaceful flocks still graze the quiet hills?

 

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