Last Known Activity He was the bombardier on crew #11 in the Doolittle Raid.
He was cremated but the location of his ashes is unknown.
His DFC citation: Awarded for actions during World War II
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Sergeant William L. Birch (ASN: 6561172), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary achievement as Bombardier of a B-25 Bomber of the 1st Special Aviation Project (Doolittle Raider Force), while participating in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland on 18 April 1942. Sergeant Birch with 79 other officers and enlisted men volunteered for this mission knowing full well that the chances of survival were extremely remote, and executed his part in it with great skill and daring. This achievement reflects high credit on himself and the military service.
Authorized as 17th Observation Group on 18 Oct 1927. Redesignated 17th Pursuit Group in 1929. Activated on 15 July 1931. Redesignated 17th Attack Group in 1935 and 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) in 1939. The 17th was the first group to be designated as 'Medium' Bomb Group.
Prior to WWII the U. S. Army Air Corps suffered the neglect that befell all of the U.S. armed forces. In February 1941, President Roosevelt, recognizing the probable entry of the USA into the raging European War ordered preparations and build up of the U.S. armed forces. The 17th Bomb Group was redesigned as the 17th bomb Group (M) and consisted of the 34th, the 73rd, the 95th Bomb Squadrons with the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron attached. Due to an administrative error, the 73rd Squadron was assigned to the 28th Bomb Group and the 37th Squadron was assigned to the 17th. The 17th began intensive training with their B-18's and B-23's. In February 1941 the 17th became the first Group to receive the B-25 Mitchell, and by September all four squadrons were equipped with B-25's. (In May 1942, the 89th was assigned to the 17th and became the 432nd Bomb Squadron.) As the 17th became more proficient, it was called upon to provide cadres to the 38th, 42nd, 12th, and the 47th Bomb Groups thereby acquiring the name "Daddy of Them All". From September through November, the 17th participated in the Louisiana and the Carolina maneuvers. Upon completion of the maneuvers, the 17th was transferred to March field, California, arriving there on 5 December in anticipation of a few days off for rest and relaxation.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed that. The 17th was ordered to Pendleton Oregon, for coastal patrol against any Japanese attack on the West Coast. On Christmas day, a plane from the 95th Squadron made the first 'kill' of an enemy submarine in U.S. waters, when it engages as sank a sub at the mouth of the Columbia River. In early February, the Group was transferred to Lexington County Airport in South Carolina for patrol duty on the East Coast. During these patrols, the 17th sank a German U-boat and became the first group to sink a sub on both coasts. The Group continued to lose crews to the new groups, 21st, 309th, and 310th Bomb Groups. During this period a select group of 120 flew to Eglin Field, Fla. to train for what turned out to be the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. In June the 17th became the B-26 OTU and traded its B-25's for B-26 Marauders and was transferred to Barksdale at Shreveport La, where it began training crews for the 319th. The shortage of experienced B-26 crews, maintenance personnel, spare parts and proper tools caused the transition period to the "hot" B-26 to be less than a pleasant experience, but with time and experience difficulties were overcome.
In August 1942, the 17th, 319th and 320th Groups were selected to support operations in North Africa and were relieved of their OTU duties and commenced intensive bombing and gunnery training. Starting in August through December the Group moved to North Africa with aircrews ferrying B-26's via the South American route and support groups proceeding by ship. With support from the 319th Bomb Group, the 17th flew its first combat mission against Gabes Airfield in southern Tunisia on 30 December. Served in combat in the Mediterranean theater (at various locations listed below) until November 1944, being assigned first to Twelfth AF, then to Fifteenth (Nov 1943), and again to Twelfth (Jan 1944). Flew interdictory and close-support missions, bombing bridges, rail lines, marshalling yards, harbors, shipping, gun emplacements, troop concentrations, and other targets. Helped to bring about the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943. The 17th assisted in the reduction of Pantelleria and Lampedusa in June 1943; participated in the invasions of Sicily in July and of Italy in September 1943; and took part in the drive toward Rome, receiving a DUC for a bombing attack on airdromes at Rome on 13 Jan 1944. Because of its renowned bombing accuracy the 17th was chosen to bomb targets in Florence to protect the art treasures there. The 17th also took part in the assault on Monte Cassino. The 17th received the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for operations in Italy, April -June 1944. Took part in the invasion of Southern France (during which it flew against its toughest opponent - the guns of Toulon) in Aug 1944, and continued bombardment operations in northern Italy and France. In November the Group moved to Dijon, France and continued its attacks on Germany supporting the final drives which resulted in the German Surrender. It was during this period that the 17th had its first brush with the Me-262, German Jet Fighter. Received second DUC for bombing attacks on enemy defenses near Schweinfurt on 10 Apr 1945. The end of the war in Europe resulted in the shipment of all combat personnel to the U.S. and the gradual dis-establishment of the 17th Bomb Group (M) Assisted in the disarmament of Germany after V-E Day. Returned to the US in Nov. Inactivated on 26 Nov 1945.
Missions flown 606
Number of sorties 13,041
B-26's Lost in Combat
Enemy A/C destroyed 244
In Air 101
on Ground 243
March Field, Calif, 15 Jul 1931
McChord Field, Wash, 24 Jun 1940
Pendleton, Ore, 29 Jun 1941
Lexington County Aprt, SC, 9 Feb 1942
Barksdale Field, La, 23 Jun-Nov 1942
Telergma, Algeria, Dec 1942
Sedrata, Algeria, c. 10 May 1943
Djedeida, Tunisia, 23 Jun 1943
Sardinia, Nov 1943
Corsica, c. 14 Sep 1944
Dijon, France, c. 20 Nov 1944
Horsching, Austria, Jun 1945
Clastres, France, c. 3 Oct-Nov 1945
Camp Myles Standish, Mass, Nov-26 Nov 1945
Langley Field, Va, 19 May 1947-10 Sep 1948
Capt Frank O'D Hunter, 1931-unkn
Lt Col Walter R Peck, Mar 1941
Lt Col William C Mills, Feb1942
Lt Col Flint Garrison, 16 Jun 1942
Lt Col Curtis D Sluman, 26 Jun 1942
Lt Col Karl E Baumeister, 11 Mar 1943
Lt Col Charles R Greening, 25 May 1943
Lt Col Robert A Zaiser, 18 Jul 1943
Col Donald L Gilbert, 14 Oct 1943 (KIA)
Col R O Harrell, 21 Jul 1944
Col Wallace C Barrett, 20 Mar 1945
Lt Col Stanford W Gregory, 1 Jun 1945-unkn.
World War II:
Antisubmarine, American Theater
Air Combat, EAME Theater
Distinguished Unit Citations:
Italy, 13 Jan 1944
Schweinfurt, Germany, 10 Apr 1945
French Croix de Guerre with Palm: Apr, May, and Jun 1944
Shield: Or, seven crosses pattee in pale sable.Crest: On a wreath of the colors (or and sable) a griffin rampant of the first, beaked, fore-legged and winged of the second, and langued, gules.
Motto: TOUJOURS AU DANGER -- " Ever Into Danger. " (Approved 19 Jan 1934.)
Description of 17th Bomb Group/Wing Insignia
This Insignia was approved for:
(1) The 17th Bomb Group on 2 November 1937
(2) The 17th Bomb Wing (L/NI) on 27 May 1952
Authorized for the 17th Bomb Wing by:
Letter from Department of the Air Force
Headquarters United States Air Force
AFDRD-EQ-4 of 27 May 1952
17th Bomb Group Crest
This is the heraldic description of the crest
"OR, seven crosses pattee in pale sable:Crest:on a wreath of colors (OR ad Sable) a griffin rampant of the first,beaked,fore-legged and winged of the second, langued, gules"
The Motto is: 'Toujours au Danger' (Ever into Danger)
This is a description of the meaning of the heraldic description of the crest. The numbers are indicated.
Indicates that the Shield is Gold in color
Seven crosses pattee in pale sable:
(a)pattee means that the crosses are spread over the height of the shield
(b)Sable: This means that the crosses are Black
(c) The seven crosses represent the seven campaigns of the units of the 17th during World War I:
Crest: on a wreath of colors (OR ad Sable)
(a) The wreath is a pair of intertwined ropes, on which the griffin is standing
(b) OR ad Sable: This means that the ropes are alternate Gold and Black
A griffin rampant of the first, beaked
griffin rampant; Said of a beast of prey rising with forepaws in the air. Animal faces dexter (left)
beaked: means with the beak and legs of a bird
fore-legged winged of the second, having wings of a different color than the body
the griffin is symbolic of a menace
langued: having the tongue exposed
gules: Indicates that the wings, forepaws and tongue are Red
Scroll: the scroll under the shield is gold with black letters