John Birch (missionary and spy)

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John Morrison Birch

Birthdate: (27)
Death: August 25, 1945 (27) (shot by Chinese Communists near Xi'an, China)
Immediate Family:

Son of George Snider Birch and Ethel Birch

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Immediate Family

About John Birch (missionary and spy)

John Morrison Birch (May 8, 1918 – August 25, 1945) was an American 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 in the United States consider him to be a martyr and the first victim of the Cold War. The John Birch Society, an American right-wing 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 to Baptist missionaries in Landour, a hill station in the Himalayas in northern India. In 1920, when he was two, the family returned to the United States. He and his five younger siblings were reared in New Jersey and Macon, Georgia, in the Southern Baptist tradition. He received his high school diploma from Lanier High School for Boys, now Central High School. He graduated from Southern Baptist–affiliated Mercer University 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 Mercer, he organized a student group to identify such cases of heresy by professors as references to evolution.

Missionary work

While at Mercer, he decided to become a missionary and enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. After completing a two-year curriculum in a single year, he sailed for China. Arriving in Shanghai in 1940, he began intensive study of Mandarin Chinese. After six months of training, he was assigned to Hangzhou, outside the area occupied by the Japanese fighting in the Second Sino-Japanese War. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor ended that; and 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 Zhejiang province.

Military career

In April 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and his crew crash-landed in China after the Tokyo raid. They had taken off from an aircraft carrier, then flown on from Tokyo to the Chinese mainland as planned. After bailing out, they were rescued by sympathetic Chinese and smuggled by river into Zhejiang province. When Birch was told of the downed fliers, he went to meet them. He assisted them to safety and helped locate friendly territory and direct them there.

When Doolittle arrived in Chongqing, he told Col. Claire Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers, about Birch and his help. Chennault said he could use a Chinese-speaking American who knew the country well. Chennault commissioned Birch as a 1st Lt., 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 U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He stated he would be willing to be accepted into the OSS only if 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, Maj. 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, 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 reach Allied personnel in a Japanese prison camp, they were stopped by Chinese Communists near Xi'an. 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 shortly. 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, Texas, was named The John Birch Hall by Pastor J. Frank Norris. A small street in a housing development outside Boston, John Birch Memorial Drive in Townsend, is also named for him.[

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John Birch (missionary and spy)'s Timeline

May 8, 1918
August 25, 1945
Age 27