It was one of the last deaths of World War II, but its legacy had a lasting effect on our politics.
Seventy years ago Tuesday—on Aug. 25, 1945— a 26-year-old Army Air Force captain named John Birch was killed by communists in China at the twilight of World War II, after Japan announced its surrender. Some 13 years later, the John Birch Society–named for the young soldier–was founded to expose what they saw as rampant communism within the United States.
The secretive group wasted little time fanning the flames of anti-communist sentiment, with TIME reporting in 1961 on their theories about leftist agents in high-ranking government positions—including, they posited, Dwight Eisenhower. That report was read into the Congressional record a few weeks later and inspired debate on the Senate floor.
The group’s namesake was apt. As TIME reported, Birch was a champion crusader:
After school, Birch followed his parents’ lead in becoming a missionary. He was serving in China when World War II arrived. In 1942, after meeting survivors of the U.S. air raid on Tokyo, Birch decided to enlist and was assigned to work behind enemy lines in China.
Read more from 1961, here in the TIME Vault: Who Was John Birch?
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