John Birch and I


         The ensuing account is a record of my encounter and later association with John Birch during the time that we were both a part of the 14th Air Force in the China Theater of operations under General Claire D. Chennault in parts of the years 1943, 1944, and 1945.


         I entered the U. S. Army as an aviation cadet in January of 1942, flight school class 42-1. I graduated in October, 1942, and was assigned to fighter plane transition at Byrd field, Richmond, Virginia. Later our training squadron was transferred to the municipal airport at Philadelphia, where, after about one month I made a poor-judgment high-speed landing, resulting in a horrendous ground-loop at the end of the runway in which the left wing caught the support of a floodlight which stood the plane up on its nose, damaging the propeller and front fuselage cowling. Subsequently a physical revealed that my blood pressure was elevated thus ending my active flying career


         In retrospect, I see the hand of providence in this. I was transferred from combat flight training to Headquarters, First Fighter Command, at Mitchell Field on Long Island. I reported in to the commanding officer, a Colonel, who gave me several days of busy-work, and then called me in and asked me what I thought they should do with me. I responded that I had lived most of my life in China, spoke Mandarin with some fluency, and that I thought it would be a good idea for me to go to the Air Force Intelligence School, and then sent to China. After only a moment's hesitation he said "I think that's a good idea, we'll do it".


         By that time I had been in the army about 13 months, and had only had one three-day pass, so I requested a two-week leave, and upon return I went immediately to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I spent two months learning a few things that would stand me in good stead in China, and a great deal that would not. In the latter were such things as enemy plane recognition, which I had already had more than enough of in flight school, and how to plan and brief pilots and flight crews for large operations such as were in use or planned for operations in Europe. The one thing we learned that was very useful was the interrogation of pilots and writing of mission reports. It turned out that in China that was almost my entire daily duty during the 14 months that I spent with the 75th Fighter Squadron. One other event that characterized my stay in Harrisburg had important thought then unrecognized significance. In my class at Harrisburg were two men, surnames Shultheis and Rosholt. I do not remember their ranks, but when I met up with them later in China they were major and captain, respectively. Rosholt ― (* my memory serves me false. Rosholt did serve in China, but not at any time with Birch, to the best of my knowledge) ― had been a dealer in Chinese art and antiquities, and Schultheis had been a teacher in the College of Chinese Studies, the most prestigious language school in China, and where all Southern Baptist Missionaries go to study Mandarin. I soon discovered that Schultheis' wife was the former Jean Walker, daughter of Mr. Walker, the retiring director of the China YMCA. His son is Doak Walker, the eminent Sinologist at Columbia. We were all shipmates on the SS President Hoover traveling from Shanghai to San Francisco in 1936.


         In brief, no sooner was I through at Harrisburg than I was immediately put on orders and hurried to Atlantic City where my overseas shipment group was already assembling. Then, as usual there was a change, and our group waited two months as the ship that was to take us to India was sent to North Africa to transport the bulk of Rommel's Afrika Corps to POW camps in the US. We finally shipped out of Jersey City in early July, arriving in Karachi in August. Again there were delays, aggravated by a bout with dysentery; but by my own ingenuity and the assistance of two civilian pilots who were taking a modified B-24 hospital plane to Assam, I was able to get to the jump-off place for the "hump-flight" into Kunming.


         At Chabua I stayed about three or four days before being booked on a flight to Kunming. This plane was a B-24 modified as a passenger plane, and had as passengers a lot of high brass from the Chinese Army, and Colonel Milner, who was en route to becoming General Chennault's Adjutant General. I was still a second lieutenant, but as far as I know, was the only qualified flight officer on board except for the flight crew.


         Upon arrival I reported in to General Chennault's G-2, (Staff intelligence), and found that it was none other that my old friend from Harrisburg, Major Schultheis. From him I learned that I was to be assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron, the most prestigious unit in the 23rd Fighter Group that originally composed the famous mercenary Flying Tigers of pre-war fame, and then commanded by the legendary ace, Tex Hill, who had been promoted from Squadron to Group Commander before I arrived. This group was the only unit in the entire US Armed Forces to have been in combat when organized (July 4, 1942), and continuously in combat until. V-J Day.


         It was in Kunming that I first met John Birch. I was out on the field watching some Chinese coolies loading freight on a C-47, when an American in a gray Chinese uniform appeared in the door of the plane, speaking to the workmen in fluent Chinese. I had already discovered that the locals spoke Mandarin, and I complimented this man on his good command of the language. He returned the compliment, and introduced himself as Captain John Birch. We chatted, but on nothing of consequence.


         After I caught up with my assigned outfit I discovered that already, in October of 1943, John Birch was a legendary figure. I do not know how much of what I heard was literally true, but much of it I am sure is so. Stories abounded of him living with the Chinese Army, and working alone, sometimes camouflaged as a coolie, sitting on the bank of the Yangtze River somewhere east of Hankow, counting river traffic, and then notifying Kunming by radio when and where profitable targets were located.


         As far as I know, during late 1943 and early 1944 Birch was headquartered in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province, where he was in close association with the local General, sometimes called the "Tiger of Changsha". I learned later that Birch had by that time started a school for spies, and when he later transferred his activities from Hunan to northern Anhwei he did the same thing. His technique was to train active spies in pairs. One would seek out military targets and the other strategic information. This he would carry out to his partner, who was schooled in weather observation and short-wave communication. This man would have a radio of a certain frequency, and a one-coolie-power generator. These teams would have certain schedules when they would contact Birch at his home base. Here the information would be analyzed, encoded, and radioed to Kunming. Perhaps there were schedules with other bases as well, I am not sure.


         My first direct contact with Birch's operations came in the late fall of 1943. It was the practice of the Japanese Army each fall to make a major foray into the "rice-bowl" country southwest of Hankow and west of Tung Ting Lake. Here they would engage the Chinese Army which would be deployed against them; and then confiscate major stores of newly-harvested rice as rations for the ensuing year. These we routinely referred to as the "rice-bowl campaign" of whatever particular year.


         During this particular year Birch was in the field with the Chinese Army, and a large contingent, with Birch, was surrounded on a large hill west of Changteh, southwest of Changsha. This was the first time that the 14th Air Force engaged in extensive low-level support of ground forces; an activity that increased as the Japanese Air Force launched fewer and fewer air actions against our airfields or major Chinese cities. Birch in this campaign pioneered in the China Theater the use of cloth panels to indicate targets on the ground, and it was partly this air-ground cooperation that stalled the Japanese attack. The other factor, I am sure, was that they attained their real objective, rations for the next year, and were going home anyway.


         The Medical School of the Chinese-Yale University enterprise was located in Changsha, and operated there until the spring of 1944, when the Japanese launched their last great offensive through Central China. There was an American nurse working there, and there were rumors that Birch and this girl had a romance going, and that they had talked of a future missionary enterprise between them, involving marriage. In Changsha also there was a British medical unit. Whether or not it was associated with Yale-in-China I do not know. One of the nurses in that outfit was Audrey Mair, who was a student in the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo at the same time that I was enrolled there. When they were evacuating Changsha in late spring of 1944 Audrey stopped in Hengyang, and was much entertained by our pilots. As an old acquaintance from Chefoo she gave me scant notice. If you will read in Robert Welch's biography of John Birch you will find that there is reason to believe that he and Audrey were quite serious about one another for awhile in Changsha, but he eventually decided that she was not suitable material for a missionary wife, and was altogether too worldly for him to pursue any further. Our mutual aide, General Wang Chung Min, later told me when we were together in Anhwei Province that he became convinced that Birch and the American nurse were very much in love. I do not know if he knew about Audrey, but there are letters to validate that John was quite interested in her for awhile. .


         During the winter and early spring of 1944 our operations out of Hengyang were mostly routine, looking for targets of opportunity up north, and several times trying to destroy one of the few large bridges between Changsha and Hankow. Birch came to Hengyang a few times for supplies, but our conversations were brief, and did not concern his operations.


         As spring progressed it began to become obvious that the Japanese were preparing for a large military action of some sort. They began sending single bombers over our field on moonlit nights and dropping a few small bombs. We were never able to intercept these, as we had no night-fighters, and they were taken to be mere nuisance actions, which they most certainly were. Once they came over and dropped a string of bombs on our hostel, causing much dust and broken windows, but, as usual, we had plenty of warning and were safely in slit-trenches when the plane finally arrived. By May we were finding a great deal of river activity, and much of our time was spent interdicting it. This was apparently quite successful, as the foe began using trucks and pack horses, and it became obvious that the Japanese were coming south with a vengeance.


         A word here: our survival as an effective force depended on our getting at least 15 minutes warning of incoming aircraft. This would enable our pilots to get off the ground before the enemy planes arrived, and we always had at least one flight of planes ready during all daylight hours for base defense. Our warnings came as telephone messages from a network of Chinese observers scattered across the area between Hengyang and the Japanese-held area along the Yangtze River. The first sign of a serious advance against us would be a failure of our warning system, and when enough of it was shut down that we could not get the minimum of 15 minutes warning, we would be forced to abandon the field and fall back towards Kweilin.


         In late May or early June Birch showed up in Hengyang. I encountered him outside the Base Commander's office, and asked him how things were going. He replied that they were getting out of Changsha, as it looked as if there would be a major push south from Hankow, and it seemed that there would not be any prospect of stopping them. He pointed to a little map of China on the bulletin board and put his finger on northern Anhwei Province. He said, "We are going there". My reply was, "I wish I could go with you, that is near where I grew up". He said "why don't you?" My reply was to the effect that I had irreplaceable duties with the 75th, which was perfectly true, and that was where the talk ended. That was the end of Birch's operation in Hunan Province. He and his fellow-officer, a man named Drummond, went on to Kunming and I heard no more about him until December.


         What actually happened was that he and Drummond, together with a Chinese-American sergeant a young boy surnamed Lu (the latter was nephew of a high officer on the Generalissimo's staff in Chungking.) He had been drafted into the Chinese army, and had deserted. I suspect that his uncle was instrumental in getting him into Birch's care. Birch taught him English, and Morse code. Lu was one of the best radio operators in China, and routinely got praise from the American operators with whom he communicated. He was the cadre that went to northern Anhwei, arriving there sometime in the early summer of 1944. Somewhere along the way there was assigned to them a Major General named Wang Chung Min. He was formerly a commander of troops, and was active in the early part of the Sino-Japanese War, in the campaigns west of Shanghai and particularly the battle of Nanchang. He was able to speak some English, although that was not necessary for him to deal with Birch and Drummond. Wang may have been assigned to them by the Commander of the 10th war Area in Anhwei, a large area that was controlled by the Kuomintang lying east of the Hankow-Canton Railroad, south of the Lunghai railroad, west of the Tsinpu railroad, and north of the Yangtze River. This area was dubbed "The Island" by Birch and Drummond. There were three landing areas in the Island. The largest they called the "Pasture", as it consisted of a flood-plain alongside of a river south west of Fouyang which was regularly inundated in the rainy season in late summer, and therefore was never cultivated (northern Anhwei is a part of the great Honan Plain, which at that time was mostly wheat country, and wheat was harvested in June. I believe, though I am not sure, that Birch and party landed at the Pasture.


         The headquarters of the 10th War Area was located outside a walled city, Linchuan, which was almost on the Honan border. The Commander of the area was Lt. General Ho Chu Kuo, who was a cavalryman. His command provided the horses whenever any of the party needed to travel. This was quite important, as the Pasture was a two-day horseback ride from Linchuan. For the entire time that the Birch party was in Anhwei they were the guests of Commander Ho, who appropriated the greater part of a village for their quarters, and he also provided their food and anything else that they needed. This amounted to a considerable outlay on his part, as the party was there from about June or early July of 1944 until the end of hostilities in August of 1945.


         Birch set up his radio station in this little village on the bank of a river (name?) that ran past Linchuan and flowed east, eventually joining the river that accommodated the flow of the Yellow River after the Chinese breached the southern dike near Kaifeng during the early days of the Sino-Japanese war. Other than Linchuan a previously small river town, Kieshow, then grown to be a local metropolis on the temporary course of the Yellow River, was the nearest town of Anhinga


         Birch had the call letters for his radio station R2S, which was referred to in all oral communications as Roger Two Sugar. He set up a school for spies there, and soon had four or five teams operating. He had considerable electronic equipment with him, and was able to run a telephone line to Commander Ho's Headquarters so that they could have ready contact with them, and also he fitted his end with a phone jack and every evening he would tune in his big set to the New Delhi radio so that the Commander could hear the Chinese broadcast of world news. This connection continued as long as R2S lasted, and created a firm cordial relation between the American party in the island and Commander Ho.

         Note that the Chinese officers usually referred to themselves by their command state company commander, Brigade commander, etc. instead of by rank. This was because the Generalissimo has issued many high ranks to political people, as well as his secret police, the “Dai-Li” which were no more significant than is the rank of “Kentucky Colonel in the US. We were always addressed by rank by our Chinese colleagues, who recognized that all American ranks were awarded on military merit.


         I digress here to give an account of how I finally did become a part of Birch's operation at R2S in Anhwei.


         In the latter half of June, 1944 the Japanese did mount a formidable drive south from Hankow, with which the Chinese army could not cope. They did not put up a fight at Changsha, and soon our warning system collapsed. We withdrew to Lingling, a small field on the Siang River between Hengyang and Kweilin, mounted many daily missions in support of the Chinese troops, and interdicting enemy movements wherever possible. We also had one big daylight fight over the airfield at Lingling, when the Japanese decided we were too much of a nuisance, I suppose.


         The Chinese refused to yield at Hengyang, and what was expected to be a rout became a gutsy battle that lasted until the end of August. Our squadron stayed at Lingling until about the first of August, when our warning system again failed. I led the ground party of about 20-30 vehicles that made up the convoy to Kweilin. Very soon after arriving there I was detached back to Lingling. True, we had no warning, but with our planes removed, we had no enemy raids either. The last mission out of Kweilin each day would stay overnight at Lingling, and fly out again at dawn. This saved about two hundred miles of flight each day, and saved many gallons of precious fuel. It was my duty to write the mission report for those missions that ended in Lingling each evening. This went on until the fourth of September, when Hengyang fell. My CO, Col. Loofbourrow, flew escort for a C47 that came in to airlift our small emergency party from Lingling, while the Engineers planted 1,000-pound bombs in the runway. He brought me the news that I was a Captain, as of Sept. 1, which was some consolation for having to run once again. We took off at 4 PM; the engineers blew up the runway, crossed the river with their jeep on a ferry barge, and fled down the road to Kweilin. By 10 PM that night the Japanese had occupied the field.


         There was no further resistance to the Japanese and it soon became apparent that a real rout was in progress. In less than two weeks we had abandoned Kweilin. Our squadron was transferred again, this time to a field at Chihkiang, in western Hunan, near the Kweichow border. Since the situation was so fluid only the operational part of the squadron went there, the administrative personnel were transported to Liuliang, in a broad valley east of Kunming, and the squadron was not reunited until sometime in early 1945, after I was transferred out by General Chennault's G-2, Major Schultheis.


         Chihkiang was in beautiful hilly country, but the fall was wet and dreary, and for days at a time the weather prevented flying. This is not to say that we were not carrying out missions, but I had been writing mission reports for a year, and was thinking about the possibility of another assignment. In November an assistant Intelligence Officer Net arrived to work with me, and I took the opportunity to ask for a few days leave to go to Kunming. This would be my first break since I had a three-day pass to spend Christmas of 1943 with Baker and Eloise Cauthen, (my sister and brother-in-law) in Kweilin.


         When I arrived in Kunming I went to see Major Schultheis and asked, almost jokingly, whether he had something more exciting than writing mission reports that I could do. With hardly a pause he said, "Yes, I do". He said that he would immediately ask for me to be transferred to his "shop", thus separating me from assignment to the 75th Fighter Squadron. I had been with them for 14 months. Schultheis then told me that he could not tell me exactly why he wanted me to follow his instructions, but I was to draw up a list of everything that would be needed to equip and supply a motor convoy that would drive from an established base in west China to Sian, the capital of Shensi Province, in whose northern reaches lurked Mao Tse Tung and his communists. He gave me no explanations, but said I would soon have orders, and right after Christmas I was to go Chungking and wait.


         He did tell me that I would be assigned to the Fourteenth Air Force Unit with the acronym AGFRTS. I was told that this stood for some such nonsense as Air-Ground Field Rescue and Transfer Service. Naturally the phonetics of the acronym was the source of much mirth, and much speculation as to its real purpose.  I suppose «was what was planned in the first place.


         I spent a delightful Christmas with the Abbott family who were former Presbyterian missionaries at the Temple Hill mission in Chefoo School. There I also found a schoolmate from those days. Soon I was in Chungking, a thoroughly miserable place in winter and after about ten days I was recalled to Kunming. I never got to take the convoy to Sian, which is one of the disappointments of my lifetime.


         Upon returning to Kunming Schultheis told me that there was an emergency and I was needed elsewhere. John Birch needed medical attention, and I was selected to go to Anhwei and replace him. I think they said something about a recurrence of malaria. So, again I was sent off, with the assurance that this would probably be for a short time, and I need not think of taking all of my personal effects; the usual gross miscalculation often made in military actions. I took him at his word, and went "light", with the result that I never saw some of my possessions again until they were returned to me in Texas after I had left the service.


         The upshot of it was that I was given a C-47 filled with equipment and a full crew, and we flew, I believe non-stop, from Kunming to Laohokow, a city on the Han River northwest of Hankow. The next day we flew over a vast, snow-covered plain to the Pasture. There I and all the freight were dumped out, and not Birch, but Drummond got aboard, accompanied by about ten pilots of various affiliations who had been shot down or otherwise lost over the island, with only the words "you can call Birch on the radio to let him know you are here", they took off. Left on the ground with me was a Chinese Infantry Captain Hwang, and a small detachment of guards. Fortunately they spoke the same brand of Mandarin that I did, and I was assured that certainly Captain Birch would be here soon to meet me and escort me to Roger Two Sugar. This was a gross overstatement. First of all, I had never operated a short-wave radio, and secondly, Birch and General Wang were waiting at R2S for me to call them and announce my arrival.


         After two days of waiting Captain Hwang went to a nearby village where there was a telephone and in some way he patched through a call and told Birch that I was already there, and "what to do?" Birch told him that they would start immediately (the call was made in the morning), and sure enough, by riding hard they came in after dark the next day. Ordinarily the ride took a full two days, being somewhere around fifty miles. As they had ridden so hard they decided to rest a day before starting back, so we were on the road about five days after my arrival at the Pasture. I should add that this was in January, and the weather was below freezing.


         Our night in transit was memorable, primarily because it was the worst encounter of my life with bedbugs. We had each a door taken off its hinges for a bed, and bugs literally rained down on us from the ceiling. I made this round trip, two times each way, while I was in the island, and on the first three we stopped in the same place, with equally miserable results. The last time, in July, we stopped in an army post where we not only had insect-free quarters, but even mosquito nets as well.


         We arrived at R2S in cold weather, about dark on the second day. It was not until the next day that John and I really got down to work. He showed me his station, explained the working of the schedules, and introduced me to Sgt. Lee and Lu, who along with General Wang were to be the only companions I would have for the entire span of my tour in the Island.


         I do not remember what the occasion was for Drummond leaving instead of Birch, but it must have been severe, for he never returned. It might be that he was due to rotate back to the States anyway. All regular tours to the CBI were for 24 months. Extensions would be granted on request, and pilots were rotated after 50 missions, and were sent out of the theater immediately if they were shot down and assisted to freedom by Chinese guerrillas. I suspect that all of the happy pilots I saw at the Pasture were expecting to be rotated home.


         Birch's medical problems were not critical, and he remained at R2S until about the middle of March before taking off to the Pasture and being flown out. He was gone for about two months and returned in good health. It was in this first period that he told me a good deal about his early life.


         All he told me about his missionary activity was that it was in Chekiang Province, and that he was an independent Baptist Missionary. He was from Georgia, and had been an amateur radio fanatic since boyhood. He taught me, by conversations after we had gone to bed at night, what I know about short-wave radio. Our equipment at R2S consisted of a base unit which was powered at the time I first arrived by a small two-cycle gasoline generator. By using a large V-shaped antenna we were able at night to communicate directly with Kunming, about 900 miles to the southwest. In daytime it was not that good; as Birch explained to me because the short waves got their distance by bouncing off the ionosphere, the base of which was closer to the ground in daylight, making the reflections reach the ground sooner than at night, when the reflective layer was appreciably higher. I also learned about the uses of different quartz crystals to produce radio waves of different frequencies. We had these in pairs; one of each was at the base station, the other given to the radio operator of a spy team. Each team had a strict schedule to keep every day, and Lu would be up early calling them on schedule and taking down their report data. I do not know what sort of code the spies used, and none of them spoke or wrote English, but the information came to us and Gen. Wang, Birch and I would shape it up into codable English, encode it and transmit it to Kunming or any other appropriate base. At first we had mechanical encoders, but after I had been there awhile we got "one-time pads" which were virtually unbreakable and therefore a very secure system and we used them. We never got any high-speed automatic encoders, partly because they were very bulky, and we did not have a power system to drive them.


         While Birch was with us he would hold a brief worship service every Sunday morning. He was not pushy with his religion, but he left no doubt as to where he stood, and being exceedingly fluent in Chinese, was able to communicate well to his colleagues. Actually I was the one least able to follow coherently his messages, as I never was particularly good in the Chinese language when it came to abstractions; mine was more what would be called "street Chinese". As far as I know, General Wang never professed Christianity, but he admired the Taoist (doctrine) (?). He also had great admiration for “Robin Hood” and his practice of taking from the rich to give to the poor.


         From time to time he would either go to the Chinese Headquarters of Commander Ho or would come with some of his officers to visit us. These were good social occasions, and we enjoyed their friendship and concern for us very much. As an example of Birch's command of the language, on one of these occasions the discussion turned to Chinese Opera, and Birch was right in the middle of it, while I sat more or less silent. Finally several of the officers asked Birch if I understood what they were talking about, and I was forced to admit that all I had was a vague idea. Birch was good at translating American humor into Chinese, and would regale American wit for them, and their hearty laughter proved that he was getting it across very well. At one time, as is usual in military affairs, we were frustrated over several things for which we had no solutions, and could not get any help from higher authority (not serious things, but nit-picky things that no one seemed able to help with) that we decided we needed a badge to be worn by all members of our group. As I recall, it was to have some senseless logo in the middle, with the Chinese characters Yua FuTsa Yua Hao encircling it; which being translated, comes out "the more confused the better". This comment usually terminated all complaints about things over which we had no control.


         During this period Birch told me how he first became acquainted with General Chennault, which explains the almost fanatical loyalty that he had toward him. The time goes back to the year 1941, when Chennault was organizing a command of the American Volunteer Group, popularly known as the Flying Tigers. These men were recruited by Chennault, at the request of Generalissimo Chiangkaishek and with the connivance of President Roosevelt and his military advisors, to become a mercenary flying unit to help break up the terrible mass bombing of undefended Chinese cities by the Japanese. Their story is legendary, and needs no repeating here. At the time that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Birch was carrying on his missionary activities in Chekiang Province. I do no know exactly where he was, but I suppose it is in the record somewhere.

I do not recall that he ever told me.


         After the fall of the Philippines, President Roosevelt felt the need of a symbolic event to boost morale in the U. S., and so the Doolittle raid was planned. Weather information from the Chinese mainland was virtually nil, and when the raiders headed for China after their flight over Tokyo they ran into vile weather, and, pursuant to orders, they flew a heading that would take them to China south of Shanghai, and parachuted from their planes when they ran out of fuel. Thus it was that several dozen American airmen rained out of the sky into Chekiang Province. It was not long before the survivors, including General Doolittle, were in the friendly hands of the Chinese, but "what to do?" Enter John Birch. Someone remembers that there is an American missionary in the vicinity who speaks good Chinese; perhaps he can be persuaded to be an interpreter for them. Thus Birch was recruited by the locals to help them communicate with the Doolittle fliers.     


         They were well-treated by the Chinese, probably both military and civilian. Birch told me an amusing tale of his difficulty in explaining to their host the urgent need of some of the men to use the toilet. After a round of polite euphemisms Birch finally said "Ta den yao da-bien", which literally means “they want to do a big one", much to the relief of the fliers and a hilarious good feeling on the part of all.


         Behind all of this there was a genuine concern that these fliers might fall into the hands of the Japanese, with unspeakably horrible consequences. After much conferring, it was decided that they would have to be taken to Chungking, preferably by devious ways that would minimize the chances of detection by the enemy. This meant a long journey through parts where there would be no one to interpret between fliers and guides. Birch was asked if he would undertake the task of being conductor-interpreter for these men, with overall coordination by the Chinese (I presume the military, although this may not be true). Thus after two or three months, this troop of survivors of the Doolittle raid struggled to Chungking and were put in the charge of General Chennault. Some of these men later returned to China to help start the Chinese-American Wing, a fighter group, with parallel staffing, each Chinese with an American counterpart that became a reality in 1943. Some of the pilots that flew out of the Island on the flight that took me in were from this wing.


         It was in Chungking that Birch met General Chennault, who asked him what his future plans were. I am sure Birch told him that it was unlikely that he could pursue his missionary work with a war on, and Chennault offered him a job with the AVG as an intelligence officer. The offer was accepted. I do not know what sort of work Birch did for the AVG, for their primary mission was to destroy Japanese planes and thus protect Chinese civilians from murderous genocide. But it might have been that Chennault, even then, was taking a long look at operations in China and foresaw the need for just the sort of operation that Birch eventually formulated for him. Probably some of the heroic stories about his operations along the Yangtze River derive from these days, rather than his later work in the U. S. Air Corps. Certainly this explains the almost fanatic filial loyalty that Birch held for Chennault until his untimely death.


         One event that occurred before Birch left for medical treatment is fixed in my memory. Remember that we, because of our spy network, we were the outermost source of mainland weather information for the Air Force units in China. One night as we were laying in bed we heard B-29's flying overhead heading east and we knew that at least to a degree, we were contributing to the reduction of the Japanese capacity to wage war. Paradoxically, it was only a matter of a few weeks until Okinawa and the Marianas fell, and all B-29's were shifted to those Pacific islands. Thus, after years of preparation, the B-29 bases in western China were actually used for their intended purpose for about six or eight months.


         Not long after Birch left a series of events took place that made radical changes in the operations at R2S. These are listed here, but may not be in order of their occurrence, as I did not keep a diary. Not long after Birch left a C-47 landed at the Drill Field, a small airstrip at a Chinese military installation at Taiho that we used rarely; only this once while I was there, and for good reason. It was too close to us, and would draw attention to our location. About a day or so after the plane landed there the Japanese did come over to drop a string of bombs. It messed up the field, but did little real damage. This event marked a real difference in our operations. It brought in a contingent of four meteorologists, two officers and two enlisted men, together with a generator, and their own fuel supply, and all equipment for sending up "reasons", little radios that are lifted by a hydrogen balloon to take upper air readings. Thus R2S became a diversified installation, not only a spy center.


         It was not uncommon for R2S to entertain guests, both military and civilian. There was a Presbyterian missionary named Crossett, from Arkansas, who visited several times, and both we and he enjoyed his appearances. Once while I was at the Pasture awaiting the arrival of a plane an Italian Catholic priest dropped by. As some of the men with me, weather men if my memory is correct, were Catholics I asked if he could hold a service for them, as they had not been to Mass for weeks. He replied that it would be impossible, as the Catholic Church only held Mass in the mornings, and it was already past noon. I was quietly outraged. We also had a man from AGFRTS whom I had met briefly in Chungking when I was awaiting instructions about proceeding to Sian. This man, a Lieutenant but not in the Air Corps, had walked from Laohokow, I suppose, and he was much put out that I was already there, flown in, while he had had to come in by shanks mare. The fact that I was only following orders did not do too much to mollify him. He went on to a different place in the south of the Island, where there was a third airstrip, and another installation about whose operations we were never informed. Another person who dropped by unannounced was a Major Finnegan, of the Army Engineers. He was a demolitions expert, and demonstrated to me for the first and only time the use of a bazooka, and of plastic explosive. We used the plastic to bomb the river, later collecting a nice variety of fish that soon appeared on our dinner table. Finnegan also went to the operation in the south of the island. There was also a young West Point graduate named Miller who showed up and stayed with us for a few days. He bought a horse, and also went on to the South Island base. I retrospect, I wonder if this might not have been the gathering of the first contingent of the OSS operation in China that the Generalissimo resisted for so long.


         Further to the same point, I suspect that it was preparation for the arrival of the 0SS and the establishment of their headquarters in Sian that might have been Schultheis' reason for having me draw up the plan for a convoy from Chungking, or Chengdu, or wherever to go to Sian the previous December. Looking back on it, it seems a logical scenario, but my orders were changed, and I never been for sure why I was supposed to go to Sian.


         Another event that transpired while Birch was absent was some strange military activity along the railroads bordering the island to the west, north and east. Bear in mind that most of the Japanese soldiers in China were either Koreans or Chinese puppets. In spring of 1945 these troops began moving out from their locations on these railroads toward territory under the control of the Nationalist Kuomintang. We heard of this through our spy system as well as the regular Chinese military intelligence. In most places it seemed that there was a general advance away from the railroad for as much as 20 miles. This looked like there was going to by military action against the island. I notified our headquarters in Kunming that we were preparing for a possible evacuation, but at the moment moving only heavy equipment, not personnel. They replied asking to be informed, and approving our actions. No military action followed; instead the troops dug defensive trenches and withdrew, whereupon the Chinese Communists, as if on cue, moved in to form a buffer between the Kuomintang troops and the Japanese Forces, wherever they had been in close contact. Particularly along the Pinghan railroad this amounted to a complete separation of the Kuomintang forces and the Japanese by a Communist buffer. This appeared then, and still does seem to me to be a well-planned act of collusion against the Kuomintang.


         We also received in this interim when Birch was absent information that the Communists were moving in large numbers from northern Shensi (now known as Shaanxi) down across Shansi to the dry course of the Yellow River below the point at which the Chinese had blown the dike in about 1939. Here they have a rest camp about 20 miles long on the south dike where the men were outfitted with new uniforms, as I recall black with white accessories, and eventually passed along to Kiangsu Province where we later learned they had an installation resembling that at Yenan, including a hospital and arsenal as well as troops.


         This is how we learned about this Communist center right in the middle of East China. Sometime in April or early May General Wang came to me in great excitement telling me that Commander Ho had just told him by telephone that the Communists northeast of us near the Tsinpu railroad had Five Americans that they wished to turn over to the Kuomintang. He said they would be there (at R2S) that very afternoon. Sure enough, at about four o'clock here came a military escort with five American servicemen. We soon found out that one of them was a former Flying Tiger shot down over Lao Kay in Vietnam before Pearl Harbor; two were Marines from the Peking Embassy who were interned on December 8, 1941, and two were from Wake Island, a Marine pilot and a Naval gunnery officer. All had been imprisoned in the military prison in Shanghai, and were being moved north because of the Japanese expectation that after the fall of Okinawa there would be a landing on the China coast. These men, whose physical condition was such that they were not guarded as closely as newer prisoners jumped off the train after dark somewhere north of Pengpu and were picked up by the Communists. They had been heading west, knowing that in that direction laid safety. The Reds took them back across the tracks into their enclave, where they were kept several weeks, were well-fed, and given a cook's tour complete with demonstration of military maneuvers, and then brought back across the tracks to us. Quite a piece of propaganda. We were the first free Americans they had seen in four or more years. They were with us a day or two, and I hastened to report them to Kunming, knowing that the General would be especially glad to know about his former Tiger. I was instructed to send them to the south Island base, where the AGFRTS man was absolutely furious that I had invaded his turf, and deprived him of his prerogative of reporting their escape.


         I didn't care, it was done and I still think that they were entitled to as quick information as possible going forward. At any rate, I never heard any more about it.


         Another thing that transpired while Birch was gone was the visits we had from two unlikely friends. One was a Colonel from Kuomintang irregulars who were operating in the Shantung peninsula, centering around Laiyang, long a hot-bed of Communist activity. We arranged through him to send a spy team to Shantung to work with and through his command. This would have given us access to much needed intelligence from both sides of the peninsula. The spies were sent, but I left before they reported in, and in any case the war ended before they would have been very helpful. The other visit was from the Korean Government in Exile, which we learned was in the island, only a few miles from us. Tiger Kim, the provisional President in Exile, came to our station with one of his aides and a few Korean soldiers that had defected from posts along the Tsinpu railroad. Kim spoke no Chinese, but we had good communication with his aide, and were able to arrange for one of the Korean soldiers to transport a radio to Peking. It was deemed too risky to send the spy by train, and he set out on foot. The set was delivered by the Korean who put his uniform back on, took the radio to the nearest train station, got on and went to Peking. Within a week ha was back, laughing about how he had bluffed his way past the Chinese puppet guards by assuming the typical arrogance of the Japanese military.


            (You may recall that Kim was assassinated in North Korea after the War during the power struggle that resulted in Syngman Rhee becoming the first free “President” (dictator) of Korea.)


         Unfortunately, the war was over before we got any communications from them.


         Lastly, a Chinese man came from Shantung with a message typewritten on silk cloth sewn into the collar of his jacket. It was written by two men whether English or American I do not know who had escaped over the wall of the Presbyterian Mission compound in Weihsien that housed most of the civilian internees from Shantung, including the entire Chefoo School from which I graduated in 1935. I was happy to pass this information on, but have no idea where it ended up.



         Arch returned to R2S sometime around the first of June, 1945.


         By then we had received a large generator and enough gasoline to run it for a long time. With it we were able to have electric lights throughout our establishment. Due to a connection that General Wang and I had made during a trip to the military command at Kieshow we also had had donated a Johnson Seahorse outboard motor, which we rigged up to operate a small sampan. This was of no immediate use other than for recreation, but later on, after I left it came in handy to transport some of our personnel who became sick to medical help a lot faster than would otherwise have been the case. I heard indirectly that we had a case of cholera, and one of trachoma that profited from this capability.


         By the time Birch got back it was evident that a climax in the war was fast approaching. V - E Day was June 6, and it seemed that Japan would not be able to resist the onslaught of the entire Allied establishment. No longer was it likely that a landing on the China Coast would take place; more likely there would be a direct attack on Japan itself. Dinner-table conversation was about the course that the war might take. By then we had about a dozen Americans there, with many specialties.


         In the middle of June Birch and I received notice from 14th Air Force headquarters that OSS was now fully operational in China, with headquarters in Sian, and we were to report to and receive orders directly from them. Furthermore, since we had not been recruited directly by OSS we were privileged to elect either to be transferred outright to OSS, or we could elect to remain in the 14th Air Force, on detached service to OSS. The latter would mean that when our service to OSS ended we would revert to our former command; the former meant that we would remain with OSS until they chose to release us, and we would revert later to the appropriate command in the United States.


         We discussed this a great deal. Eventually Birch, because of his strong emotional tie to General Chennault, elected to go the detached service route. After long consideration I told him that I had a gut feeling that the war was about to be over, and I could think of no better position to be in than in the OSS with no war to fight and a military specialty of Combat Intelligence Officer not attached to any combat unit. I elected to go to the OSS route. This turned out great for me, but most tragically for him; although in retrospect I doubt that the choice had anything to do with his ultimate fate, as he was still serving OSS when he was murdered.


         By the time we got all this sorted out it was near the end of June, and I notified OSS that on July 3 I would complete my 24 months of overseas duty, and requested repatriation to the States. In a matter of days I received orders to report by first available means to Sian for debriefing and rotation home. The local military were planning a big 4th of July celebration at Commander Ho's headquarters, so I made plans to leave for the Pasture on the 5th. The party was a fully catered Chinese feast, and an opera, plus many toasts and expressions of joy and celebration over the defeat of the Axis in Europe, and anticipation of a rapid termination of hostilities in Asia. The next day General Wang and I left for the Pasture. No one had any idea of the coming climax and rapid end to hostilities because of the atom bomb. I make no claim to any special powers of divining or necromancy, but my choice of going with OSS certainly paid off for me.


         It took only a few days of waiting for a plane to come in and pick me up. The rains had begun, and the Pasture was quite soggy, but the trusty C-47 made it off the ground with many yards to spare. Our flight path was directly up the full length of the famous gorges of the Yangtze River, which was like flying the length of the Grand Canyon level with the rim. What a sight. I made it to Sian without incident, was debriefed, and left for Kunming the next day. In Kunming I had to wait several days, but eventually made it back over the Hump, only 10,000 feet of altitude this time instead of 18,000, and on to Karachi, Abadan, Cairo, Tripoli, and Casablanca in almost record time. After three days there I came by way of the Azores and Newfoundland to La Guardia, arriving on July 31. Six days later they dropped the Bomb and the war was over.


         I have no first-hand information of the doings at R2S after I left. Of course the murder of Birch on his way to Suchow on orders of the OSS made news everywhere. I had any first-hand contact with only one person who was at R2S after I left, but I have learned that a contingent of OSS people was there before the war ended. One of the officers later wrote an article that was published in ARGOSY Magazine, I believe sometime in the '60’s. I had a copy for a long time, but it has disappeared from my files, along with everything else I had about Birch, including his biography by Welch.


         If you have access to a library file of Argosy Magazine you could look it up, and would have a good, first-hand account of the last days at R2S, plus this man's assessment of Birch at that time, his mental attitude regarding China and the coming struggle with the Communists. I found it to be a fascinating article, one that meshed well with my understanding of Birch's credo and psyche, and that offers a plausible explanation of why Birch was killed and all the rest spared. If you cannot locate a copy of this article, I will try to resume it as best I can. It has been several years since my copy disappeared.



Bryan P. Glass, Son of Southern Baptist missionaries. Chefoo student


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