John Birch was born on May 28, 1918, in Landour, India, to Baptist missionaries George S. Birch (1892-1992) and Ethel M. Birch (1890-1977). He and his family returned to the United States in 1920, and he was raised in New Jersey and Georgia. John graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, in 1939, and then attended the Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, graduating in 1940. From 1940 to 1942, John served as a Baptist missionary in China, and continued to serve through 1945 after joining the U.S. Military. In April 1942, he aided the Doolittle Raiders after they crash-landed in Japanese-controlled areas of China by helping them get to friendly territory. Jimmy Doolittle recommended John to Gen Claire Chennault for service with the Army Air Forces and Chennault awarded Birch a commission on July 4, 1942. Chennault used Birch as an intelligence officer and he served with the Military Intelligence Service with Headquarters 14th Air Force when it was activated on March 10, 1943. Capt Birch also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but managed to continue his missionary work to the Chinese people at the same time. On August 25, 1945, Capt Birch was murdered by Chinese Communists while traveling to reach Allied personnel in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He was buried in a cemetery near Hsuchow, China. The John Birch Society was named in his honor on December 9, 1958, and he is considered to be the first casualty of the Cold War.
The following is from his nomination for the Distinguished Service Cross, which he was never awarded:
Without any previous training in ground-air coordination, and with practically no guide materials or instruction, Birch, over a period of two years, during which he was almost continually in the field, living under the most primitive conditions and constantly in close proximity to the enemy, achieved phenomenal success. From 25 May 1944 until the end of the war Captain Birch operated almost exclusively behind the lines. His job was at all times extremely hazardous. Due to his outstanding ability in gathering intelligence and organizing intelligence nets he was an extremely valuable member of the Allied Forces and he contributed immeasurably in bringing the war in China to a successful conclusion.
Capt John Birch was also recommended for the Medal of Honor, but was never awarded it either.