Captain John Birch was perhaps the final casualty of World War II, or the first casualty of the Cold War. He was killed by Communists in China while on his final mission, three days after the Japanese surrender.
Birch was a hero, but not because he was some red-or-dead patriot. His valor was stolen, and I’m sure that he would not have approved of the John Birch Society named for him. Birch loved the Chinese people, even the Communists.
A few years ago I ran into his uniform, on display unnoticed at the Robins AFB Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia. I had visited that museum countless times over the past 27 years, but never really thought about that uniform or the man who wore it. I didn’t even realize it was the same John Birch, but it is.
So why would this man’s uniform be on display in a little-known central Georgia museum? That’s an interesting story…but first you should know that the Robins AFB Museum of Aviation is in fact one of the best in the world. I know this because I’ve been to many aviation museums around the world. If you have the chance to go (it’s free, but they appreciate donations), please treat yourself. There are few places where you can see and touch an SR-71, and everything from a U-2 to a B-2 bomber. On a day like Memorial Day, places like this, rare and totally accessible as they are, are even more poignant.
Now back to Birch: His family owned 500 acres up in Macon, called Birchwood, right off Riverside Drive, back during WWII. Birch was a Mercer University alum, who stirred up a bit of his own trouble back in the 1930s when he was part of a group that accused some Mercer professors of teaching heresy. Back then, Mercer was affiliated with the SBC (they’re not any longer).
If you live in a north Bibb County subdivision, it’s very possible you reside on land once owned by the Birch family. (In this case, you can, like the green-toothed man in Charlie Daniels’ song “Uneasy Rider,” claim to be a “faithful follower of Brother John Birch”. Just not in the way everyone assumes.)
The son of a Georgia missionary couple serving in India, Birch became a missionary to China just before WWII. After helping Col. James Doolittle–the man who led the bombing raid on Tokyo with B-25 bombers launched from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet–escape the Japanese, he was recruited by none other than Gen. Claire Chennault, the man who led the vaunted “Flying Tigers.”
Birch really wanted to fly, but the military’s needs were paramount (he actually did learn to fly). As a fluent Chinese-speaker, Captain Birch made one hell of an intelligence officer. He served for three years, leading some fairly harrowing missions, helping to fight against the Japanese. After the war, Birch wanted to return to China once again as a missionary to share the Gospel with the Chinese.
On his final mission, he never got the chance. He was killed at 27 by Communist Chinese–whether by mistake or not is a different story.
What is well known is that Robert Welch, Jr., the red-scare conspiracist, made Birch’s story famous in 1958. Welch created the John Birch Society, stealing the valor of the real Captain John Birch, who loved the Chinese people and had as his highest duty to represent God’s love to those who had not heard the Gospel.
If Birch was a martyr, he was a martyr for Christ.
In these divisive times, we can be far too casual with the names of those who gave their lives for this nation. Remember, each name is a person, not simply a uniform. Remembering our war dead as anything less than individuals with their own motivations, loves, and devotion to family, God, and their buddies is, simply stated, stolen valor.
Let Captain John Birch’s name be the watchword for our own political biases.