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Monday, June 01, 2020

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Wido Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs by Robert J. Mrazek

I read this in January, and it was one of my favorite books that month--a good opening to the new year.

The title belongs to Florence, and she ties everything together, but this is as much about the invasion of the Philippines by Imperial Japan as it is about Florence.

Florence was working at the G-2 (Intelligence) Headquarters in Manila under the command of Lt. Colonel E.C. (Carl) Engelhart when she met and married Charles (Bing) Smith, USN.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bing reported to his PT boat and was involved in the defense of Corregidor where he died in action.  They had been married for only six months.  

Engelhart was captured after the fall of Corregidor and sent to a POW camp in Cabanatuan, where he began keeping a record of his time in captivity and the help provided by Florence and others to the POWs.

Disturbing to me was the failure of General MacArthur to act according to the strategic plan in place (a when, not if, the Japanese continued their encroachment in the Pacific).  Had he done so, the outcome in the Philippines may have been different.

Florence managed to obtain work with the Japanese-controlled Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union, and working with the Philippine Underground, she was able to divert fuel supplies to the resistance.  She also worked with others to smuggle in food and medicine to the POWs.  The consequences of being caught meant torture and probable death.  

In 1944, the Japanese finally caught on.  Florence was arrested and tortured.  When finally rescued by American forces in 1945, she weighed only 80 pounds.  

I've only touched briefly on some of the events in the book, but it was well-written and fascinating.  The documentation of the work is extensive, and in large part, from primary sources.  

Highly recommended! 

Read in January; blog review scheduled for June 1, 2020.

NetGalley/Hatchette Books
Biography/Memoir/WWII.  June 16, 2020.  Print length:  368 pages.

18 comments:

  1. Fictions or memoirs like this is always hard to read yet it's an important one. I've to admit this isn't my typical read but I might read it at some point should the mood strikes.

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    1. It really is an excellent biography, Melody. I've read so many nonfiction books about WWII, but only two about the war in the Pacific. :)

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  2. Florence sounds like an amazing person. I should buy this one for my mom---she loves books like this---and then I could read it, too. :)

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    1. Florence was a courageous young woman, and the book was engrossing. If your mom likes history, she should enjoy this one. (I used to read all the books I planned to give to the grands. Ahem, to see if the were suitable? Ha! I picked them because they interested me.)

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  3. This is a book I'm going to read. Right up my alley.

    A man from the village where I grew up survived Corregidor and Bataan. MacArthur was megalomaniacal screw-up who always went out with plenty of bodyguards because no one would have been surprised if he'd've been shot by his own men.

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    1. The book is worth your time, Cathy. I was shocked about MacArthur's failure to follow the strategic plan. The book was extremely well documented (largely by first person accounts), and it still read with ease, very human.

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  4. Sounds great...and your obvious enthusiasm clinches it for me. It's going on the list.

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    1. Another good book about the War in the Pacific is Dick Cole's War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando that covers the war in the China, Burma, India Theater. https://bookgarden.blogspot.com/search?q=war+in+the+pacific

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    2. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, too.

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  5. Wow. What an amazing woman she was!

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    1. She certainly was and there were many other courageous civilians who stood against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

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  6. This does sound fascinating. I only know a little about her, I'm afraid. I definitely need to look for this book.

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  7. Good review, certainly piques my interest. There were so many heroic people standing up against great odds during WW II. I don't know if many of us would behave so selflessly today.

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    1. The book was really good. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had the nerve to go to work each day and divert fuel for the resistance. It would take an iron nerve to work in a Japanese managed office while working against them.

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  8. This sounds so interesting and especially as I don't know much about this aspect of the war. She sounds like a true hero and one we should have learned about in school!

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    1. It was a look at the way MacArthur fumbled and the invasion as well as the occupation. I love looking at the brave women of WWII, such a mix of courage and intelligence from code-breaking, to SOE operatives, to Resistance fighters. All the women in all the countries that contributed to the war effort have my respect.

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