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Florence Finch (1915 – 2016)

by Kirk Fox

Unsung war hero was a member of the Philippine resistance in World War II…

Florence Finch, an unsung World War II hero who was a member of the Philippine resistance against Japanese Occupation in World War II, died Dec. 8, 2016, according to multiple news sources. She was 101.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced Thursday, April 27, that Finch would be buried April 29 in Ithaca, New York, with full military honors. That announcement led to her story being carried nationwide even though she had died months earlier. In grave health in early December, Finch told her family she didn’t want them to have the funeral near Christmas so that it would not interfere with the family’s holiday celebrations. That led to the delay in her funeral.


Finch was born Oct. 11, 1915, in the Philippines, the daughter of a Filipino mother and an American father. After high school, she worked for the U.S. Army in Manila. There she met Charles Smith, a member of the U.S. Navy. They were married in August 1941. After Pearl Harbor, Smith was assigned to a PT boat, and he was killed in action in February 1942.

Manila had fallen to the Japanese forces in January 1942. Smith, who was half-Filipino, convinced the Japanese forces that she could hide her American connections. She was given a job with a fuel distributing union run by the Japanese, and she began to work with the Philippine resistance. She diverted the Japanese fuel supplies to the resistance and assisted in acts of sabotage against the Japanese occupation forces.

She smuggled food and medicine to prisoners of war, and she was eventually caught by the Japanese in October 1944. She was imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to three years of hard labor. She was forced to curl up in a 2-foot by 4-foot box. Her daughter Betty Murphy told The Associated Press that her mother endured by repeatedly telling herself, “I will survive.”

“She was down on her haunches basically every day,” Betty Murphy said, “and only fed a bowl of rice gruel per day.”

She was liberated by American forces in February 1945. She then moved to New York City to live with her aunt. Once in the states, she enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. She said at the time that she enlisted “to avenge the death of my husband.” She was awarded the Medal of Freedom in November 1947.

She later married an Army veteran, and they settled in Ithaca, New York. In her profile on the U.S. Coast Guard website, she said, “I feel very humble because my activities in the war effort were trivial compared with those of people who gave their lives for their country.”

In 1995, the Coast Guard honored her service when it named an administration building after her on a base on Sand Island, Hawaii.

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