At the age of eleven, Birch expressed a desire to become a Christian missionary. Upon learning of the violence inflicted upon missionaries by Chinese communists, the youngster selected China as his mission field. When cautioned by his pastor that "more will be killed" in China, Birch replied: "I know the big enemy is communism, but the Lord has called me. My life is in his hands, and I am not turning back."
Birch's labors in China began in 1940, a time when the country was being ravaged by the Japanese military. After Pearl Harbor he dyed his hair black, adopted the garb of the local population, and continued his underground work behind enemy lines. While near the border of Japanese-occupied territory on the evening of April 19, 1942, Birch came upon Colonel James H. Doolittle and members of the raiding party that had just completed a dramatic bombing raid on Tokyo. With his encyclopedic knowledge of the language, customs, and geography of China, Birch was able to convey Doolittle and the crews of 12 American bombers to safety in free China.
Shortly thereafter, Birch became an intelligence analyst as a second lieutenant with the China Air Task Force — General Claire Chennault's legendary "Flying Tigers." Performing high-risk intelligence-gathering missions on the ground, Birch acted as "the eyes of the 14th Air Force," devising an early warning system that enabled U.S. air units to come to the aid of Chinese units under enemy attack. He also organized a rescue system for pilots who were shot down by the Japanese. Chennault credited Birch with the fact that 90 percent of his downed flyers were rescued.
On August 25, 1945 — ten days after the end of WWII — Birch (by then a captain) was part of an official military mission to Suchow that was detained by Chinese communists. Captain Birch and another man were separated from their group and shot. An autopsy later demonstrated that after Birch had been immobilized by a gunshot to the leg, his hands were tied behind his back and he was shot execution-style in the back of his head. The communists had also desecrated Birch's dead body.
In its desire to depict the Red Chinese as innocuous "agrarian reformers," the U.S. government suppressed the news of the unprovoked murder of Captain Birch. It fell upon Robert Welch to rescue the memory of this selfless Christian patriot from the shameful oblivion to which it had been assigned. In December 1958, Welch named the new organization he created the John Birch Society to preserve the memory of this patriotic exemplar. Wrote Mr. Welch, "If we rediscover some of our sounder spiritual values in the example of his life ... and learn essential truths about our enemy from the lesson of his murder, then his death at twenty-six ceases to be a tragedy."