Jesse Lee Birchett, Jr. was born in Chattanooga, the son of a baker, and a baker himself. 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 at Marianna Army Air Field in Marianna, Florida.
After receiving his wings, and his commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Birchett received advance flight training at Eglin Field in a P-40 Warhawk and aircraft weapons training at Bluethenthal Field in Wilmington, NC. He then advanced to P-47 Thunderbolts — heavily armed, long-range aircraft that escorted B-29 bombers on their missions over Japan.
Birchett began his flying duty at the newly liberated Ishigaki-Shima in the Ryukyu Island chain, only 200 miles from the southern tip of Japan. His mission was primarily a 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 Doris Petty after WW2 and in 1951, joined the West Virginia Air National Guard and flew P-51 Mustang fighters and the SA-16 Grumman Albatross. In 1960 when the bakery where he was superintendent closed, he applied to work for the Federal Aviation Agency as an air traffic controller. His first assignment was in Elmira, NY and he later served at the Federal Flight Service installation here in Bowling Green until his retirement in 1986.
Among Birchett’s military awards and commendations are the Air Medal with Battle Star, American Defense Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, American Theatre Campaign Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 4 Bronze Stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Jesse Lee Birchett passed away in 2008 at the age of 90 and is survived by a son, John Birchett (Bowling Green), and a daughter, Beth Johnston (Kernersville, NC). His youngest son, Kenneth Birchett, died in 1977, and his wife, Doris, in 2018.