Jesse Lee Birchett, Jr. was born in Chattanooga, the son of a baker. When WW2 broke out, Birchett enlisted in the US Army Air Corp and applied for the Aviation Cadet Program. Birchett soloed in a Piper Cub, was assigned briefly to Berry Field in Nashville and then received flight training on a PT-17 Stearman.
After receiving his wings, and his commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Birchett received advance flight training at Eglin Field in a P-40 Warhawk. He advanced to P-47 Thunderbolts- heavily armed, long range escorts for B-29 bombers in the Pacific theatre.
Birchett began his flying duty at the newly liberated Ie Shima in the Ryukyu Island chain, only 200 miles from the southern tip of Japan. His mission was primarily escorting bombers for the ground attack against Japanese positions and targets along the eastern coast of China. Family records indicate that Birchett flew 15 missions.
When Birchett was interviewed by AHP in 2008, he recalled a mission when he was near fuel starvation, even though he had full external tanks. Those tanks carried an extra 150 gallons that he desperately needed to get back to base, but just wouldn’t flow. As he was preparing to bail out, a US Navy PBY Catalina flying boat radioed and told him that they were in the area and would be waiting to pick him up. Suddenly, his plane’s engine coughed and fuel began to flow, saving the day. Birchett also recalled viewing the utter devastation of Nagasaki, while escorting a flight of B-24s over that city on August 10, 1945, the day after the detonation of the atom bomb in the city.
Birchett married his sweetheart Doris after WW2 and joined the West Virginia Air National Guard and flew P-51 fighters and the SA-16 Grumman Albatross. He worked for the Federal Aviation Agency as an air traffic controller in Elmira, NY and served at the Federal Flight Service installation here in Bowling Green.
Among Birchett’s awards and commendations are the Air Medal with Battle Star, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asian-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Jesse Lee Birchett is survived by a son, John Birchett (Bowling Green), a daughter, Beth Johnston, and the late Kenneth Birchett.