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Soldier-missionary: John Birch, fortified by Christian virtue, fought and died in an effort to liberate, in body and soul, China's oppressed masses.

In April 1942, America had been at war more than four months. The long, bloody campaign across the islands of the Pacific lay ahead. Imperial Japan had wrested Singapore from the British, and had expanded her dominions across the Philippines, southeast Asia, the East Indies, New Guinea, and deep into the Chinese mainland. Yet, late in April of that momentous year, a squadron of American bombers, led by Jimmy Doolittle, flew into the heart of this vast empire to conduct an unexpected raid on Tokyo.

Doolittle and his men were well aware of the risks of what was potentially a suicide mission. After dropping their payloads they would simply have nowhere to go, except inland over occupied China. They therefore planned to fly westward until their fuel ran out and then bail out, hoping not to fall into enemy hands.

For several crews, the mission turned out badly. Some were captured by the Japanese, and a few perished. Colonel Doolittle and his crew were more fortunate; after bailing out, they were rescued by sympathetic Chinese and smuggled by river into Chekiang Province.

Several days after the raid, at a tiny village somewhere in Chekiang, a curious figure was eating dinner. Tall, spare, and dressed in coolie clothes, be ate native fare uncomplainingly. He spoke Mandarin Chinese with near-native fluency, and was known to the locals as Pai Shang-wei. Yet he was an American, a young Baptist missionary named John Birch.

While Birch was eating, he was approached by a Chinese man, who, at length, quietly asked the American missionary to follow him outside. After making sure they were unobserved, he led Birch to a sampan moored inconspicuously on the riverbank nearby. Indicating the boat, the anonymous Chinese simply said, "Americans," and left the scene.

Birch boarded the sampan and knocked on the door, calling, "Anybody in there? Anybody who can speak English?" The group of Americans hiding inside the boat hesitated. Was this a ruse? At length, convinced by Birch's authentic southern drawl that he could not be Japanese, they invited him in. Once inside the cramped boat, Birch found Colonel Doolittle and four crew members. Exhausted from their ordeal, but otherwise uninjured, Doolittle and his crew needed a guide and translator to help them get to American headquarters in Chungking. Birch agreed to personally guide Doolittle and his "Tokyo Raiders" to safety, and accompanied them as far as Lanchi. From there, he saw that they had proper directions, told Colonel Doolittle where he could be reached, and left.

Partly because of this encounter--which brought to the attention of the American military Birch's unusual talents with the language and culture--the young missionary soon became a soldier, spy, saboteur, and liaison with Chinese rebel forces. In this capacity, Birch worked primarily behind enemy lines and lived off the land under conditions that most common soldiers would have found unendurable. Yet John Birch bore it without protest, confident that, in some small way, he was aiding the cause of righteousness among the oppressed Chinese, a people he had come to love and respect.

Background to Greatness

John Birch, despite being a redblooded American boy, seemed to be linked by destiny to Asia. He was born in India in 1918, the oldest son of George and Ethel Birch who, like their son two decades later, were missionaries. When John was only two and a half years old, though, his father's health forced them to return to the milder climate of the United States. Young John Birch grew up a devout Southern Baptist, like his parents. By all accounts a sober, responsible youth, John was remembered by his younger siblings for his generosity and kindness. "In our family, we didn't have much money," his sister Betty recalled to a reporter many years later, "so John used to buy us younger children candy and gifts at the dime store with money he earned selling newspapers." Once, John even donated his entire savings to his parents to help defray Betty's medical bills.

A studious young man, Birch attended Mercer College in Macon, Georgia, where he graduated at the top of his class. While at Mercer, he decided to become a missionary, and enrolled in the Bible Baptist Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas. After completing a two-year curriculum in a single year, John Birch sailed for China in 1940.

Arriving in Shanghai, Birch began intensive study of Mandarin Chinese, for which he displayed an uncommon aptitude. After six months of training, he was assigned to Hangchow, where he proselytized tirelessly. Hangchow at the time was outside the Japanese occupation zone, so Birch was left alone by the Japanese until the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the very first day of U.S. involvement in the war, however, the Japanese sent a delegation to Hangchow to arrest him, forcing Birch to flee into the interior.

Unfortunately, he now found himself cut off from contact with the outside world, his funds rapidly dwindling. Finding that no bank would cash his travelers checks, Birch lived on his meager savings until April 1942, when, against all odds, he finally managed to cash his travelers checks at Chinese Army Headquarters at Hangchow. It was while traveling from Hangchow, after receiving the money, that John Birch encountered Colonel Doolittle and his crew. Prior to the meeting, Birch had already volunteered to enlist in the U.S. forces in China, preferably as a chaplain. Just days after he helped guide Doolittle and his men to safety, Birch was ordered to report immediately to Chu Chou airbase for duty, undoubtedly because of the glowing report Doolittle gave of him to headquarters.

After a scant four and a half weeks at Chu Chou, where John served as chaplain, he evacuated with several other preachers just ahead of the advancing Japanese, who quickly overran the base. Under orders to report to headquarters at Chungking, Birch made a harking rowing overland journey by truck and train to Kweilin, where he had the astounding good luck to run into General Claire Chennault. The general, who was at the time in charge of the famed "Flying Tigers" of the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G.), gave John Birch a lift in an Army transport plane to Chungking. There, Birch was first assigned to serve as translator for Colonel Doolittle.

Soon, because of his unique language skills and adaptability, Birch became involved in intelligence work, both in Chungking proper and in the interior, working very closely with General Chennault himself. A natural leader, Birch drew up maps, organized intelligence networks, and, in general, seems to have nearly singlehandedly set up the Intelligence Headquarters for the A.V.G.'s replacement, the China Air Task Force (C.A.T.F.).

In 1943 Birch was sent to Changsha as a liaison and intelligence officer. He not only established an unending flow of intelligence on Japanese troop movements, but also developed a system to coordinate American air support for Chinese forces engaging the Japanese. Equipped with a field radio and a growing network of Chinese infiltrators and informants, Birch efficiently located enemy ammunition dumps, airfields, howitzers, and other objects of strategic importance, and, using a portable radio, directed American planes to these targets from the ground.

Birch's network of Chinese guerrillas and saboteurs set up posts along the Yangtse to monitor the movements of Japanese naval forces and the shipping of supplies. General Chennault, in his autobiography, Way of a Fighter, lauded Birch as "the pioneer of our field intelligence net." But Birch's contribution to the war effort in China went beyond the collection of accurate and reliable intelligence. The brave young missionary also set up a network for rescuing American fliers shot down behind enemy lines. About 90 percent of Chennault's downed fliers were rescued by Birch's system. According to General Chennault, this incredible success rate was "the highest percentage of any war theater."

Birch spent much of his time in the field, usually disguised as a Chinese coolie. His command of the language had by then improved to the point where he was usually taken for a Chinese from another province. Often his missions involved grueling treks of hundreds of miles through the subtropical heat and humidity of China, living on little more than boiled water or tea with red rice, and enduring occasional bouts of malaria.

Birch the man apparently changed little during all these activities. He remained dedicated to spreading the Gospel, and looked forward to the war's end when he could return to his proselytizing work fulltime. to most of his comrades-at-arms, he was a bit of an oddity: He neither drank nor smoked; and he never used profanity. Yet he was never perceived as self-righteous, even by those who emphatically disagreed with his religious convictions.

More importantly, as far as his military work was concerned, Birch was, in the words of friend Captain Bill Drummond, "absolutely fearless, completely unselfish, never thinking of his personal discomfort or danger." Another friend. Captain James Hart, testified that "where brave men were common, John was the bravest man I knew."

Birch's qualities endeared hint to General Chennault, who lavished praise and commendations on the young soldiermissionary. A case in point came on July 17, 1944, when Birch was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in performance of outstanding service."

Like most lovers of freedom and religion, Birch was acutely aware of the Communist menace. Before the war had ended, he already saw Communism as a potentially worse enemy than either the Japanese Imperialists or the German Nazis. In a 1942 letter to an aunt, he presciently remarked, "I believe this war and the ensuing federations will set the world stage, as never before, for the rise of the anti-Christ!"

Martyr's Death

On August 25, 1945, just 10 days after V-J day, a small group of American and Chinese soldiers under the command of John Birch, who had been promoted to captain, left a surrendered Japanese garrison and proceeded by railroad handcar toward the city of Hsuchow. About noon, they reached a section of track being torn up by Communist guerrillas. After a tense confrontation, Birch persuaded the Communists to allow his party to pass.

After another hour's travel, though, Birch and his party encountered a second band of Communists. This group was more hostile, but a member of Birth's party, Lieutenant Tung of the Nationalist Chinese army, still attempted to negotiate an agreement with the Communists allowing Birch and his small team to pass. The negotiations failed, leading to the murder of Captain Birch, the attempted murder of Lt. Tung, and the capture of the remainder of Birch's party.

On what was thought to be his deathbed, an ailing Lt. Tung recounted to Lt. William T. Miller--a friend of Birch and a fellow intelligence agent in China--the tale of the Communist attack. After the Communists stated their intention to disarm the Americans, Birch refused, stating, "well so you want to disarm us. Presently the whole world has been liberated from the enemy and you people want to stop and disarm us." Birch then demanded to see the Communist leader responsible for the order to disarm the Americans and the Communist soldiers agreed, taking Tung and Birch with them. After repeatedly failing to be brought to the Communist commander, Birch, exasperated, grabbed a Communist soldier by the back of his collar and said: "you are worse than bandits." The Communist soldier did not respond and the group walked a little way further. Then someone called out: "Come over here, this is our responsible man."

Lt. Tung recalls: This Communist then angrily commanded: "Load your guns and disarm him first," pointing to Capt. Birch. Realizing how seriously acute the situation was, I spoke up in desperation saying: "Wait a minute please, if you must disarm him I will get the gun for you lest a grave misunderstanding develop."

At this moment the Communist commander turned and pointed to me ordering, "shoot him first." In an instant I felt a terrible shock and fell to the ground, shot through the right thigh....

Though lying there on the street in a semi-faint, I heard another shot fired and a voice command, "bring him along."

To this I heard Capt. Birch's anguished reply, "I can't walk."

Tung passed out and never saw Captain Birch alive again. Later he was thrown into a ditch along with the dead body of John Birch and left to die. He was severely beaten, suffering from a broken nose and ruptured right eye, as well as from the severe bullet wound in his leg. Gruesome photos taken by Lt. William Miller show the mutilated body of John Birch, his hands bound behind his back as if he had been executed, his face destroyed by multiple bayonet thrusts. A second bullet may have passed through his skull from back to front.


The death of John Birch, the first American can casualty of the Cold War, sent ripples through an American Establishment swooning over Mao Tse-tung and his Communist band of "agrarian reformers." Mao's forces could never have defeated Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalists, the greatest force for civilization and liberalization that China had ever seen, if the Nationalists had not already been slated for extinction by socialist elites in the West. With the collusion of State Department subversives, Communists in East Asia had been able to consolidate their gains at war's end. Communist Russia, which had opportunistically declared war on Japan scant days before the Japanese surrender, turned over huge caches of seized Japanese weapons to the Chinese and Korean Communists. American military aid intended for Chiang Kai-shek was blocked by treasonous Leftists in Washington bent on hastening the Communist apocalypse in the Far East. In the context of such cynical deceit and viciously duplications American foreign policy, the murder of an innocent American at the hands of Communist thugs would be disastrous for America's media-and State Department-sponsored Mao love-fest.

Accordingly, the Insiders embarked upon a cover-up of the circumstances of John Birch's death. A 1948 letter from Major General Edward Witsell to John Birch's mother claimed that John Birch was killed "as the result of stray bullets fired by Communist forces." Consequently, the letter stated, he was not entitled to the Purple Heart "as he was not killed in action against an enemy of the United States or as a direct result of an act of such enemy." Mrs. Birch was not informed of the findings of a report compiled piled under the aegis of General Albert C. Wedemeyer that contained the testimony of Lt. Tung.

General Wedemeyer bad also confronted Communist leaders Mao Tse-tung and Cbou En-lai during a meeting on August 30, 1945, expressing extreme displeasure at the murder of Birch and the capture of his party. Mao and Chou, feigning concern, promised to investigate the matter and punish the guilty parties. However, the U.S. pressed the matter no further. The incident was not mentioned again, the relevant documents were classified, and the official Washington campaign of deception on behalf of the Chinese Communists continued.

Not until the early 1950s did the details of John Bitch's death become public. On September 5, 1950, California Senator William Knowland angrily announced on the Senate floor that the circumstances of John Bitch's death had been deliberately covered up by pro-Communists in the United States government. Had the facts of the Birch incident been known at the time, he charged, Congress and the American people would never have permitted the betrayal of Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese people. But by then the Communist takeover in China was a fait accompli.

"Common" Hero

John Birch's life was tragically short. His death, nasty and brutish, came precisely as millions of other servicemen were enjoying reunions with loved ones and laying plans for a brighter future. He was for a time consigned to oblivion to serve the twisted interests of diabolically cynical political manipulators. Only the freedom-loving organization that Robert Welch named in his honor brought John Birch to public attention, kept alive the memory of his extraordinary courage and quiet heroism.

In many respects, John Birch is a far more typical hero than statesmen, generals, and other famous men in powerful positions who have left their mark on history. He led a modest, self-sacrificing existence and died a martyr's death without public acclaim. It never occurred to him to do other than what was right; he was unencumbered by the moral ambiguities associated with power politics. He defined all of his hopes and ambitions in terms of serving his God, his family, and his fellow men. John Birch, in a word, belonged to that most heroic of all classes of human beings--the so-called common men and women who, in order to preserve our civilization, have fought, suffered, and died by the countless millions. Their bones lie interred at Normandy, in Treblinka, in the Soviet gulags, in the Cambodian killing fields, in the waters of the Florida Strait. Like John Birch, they all died in the hope that generations unborn would benefit from their sufferings and sacrifices, even if their names were lost to posterity. Captains and kings depart this fallen world lavished with acclaim, but we must suppose that the millions of common heroes like John Birch will, in some future, better time, receive the higher honor.

This article (abridged) originally appeared in the April 24, 2000 issue of THE NEW AMERICAN.
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Title Annotation:The Inspiration
Author:Bonta, Steve
Publication:The New American
Date:Oct 20, 2003
Previous Article:Americanism's standard-bearer: Robert Welch launched an unprecedented movement to expose and rout the worldwide collectivist conspiracy.
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