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Full honours for 101-year-old Filipino-American war heroine

Florence Finch will be buried with full military honours in Ithaca, New York, tomorrow (Saturday)

A 101-year-old woman will receive a full military funeral to honour her contribution to the Philippine resistance during the Japanese occupation.

Florence Finch, nee Ebersole, was the daughter of a Filipino mother and an American father who had earlier settled in the Philippines.

After the Japanese invasion in 1942, she concealed her American background and helped funnel supplies to the Filipino resistance and American prisoners of war.

Eventually she was caught, imprisoned and tortured before being freed in early 1945. She then joined the Coast Guard to take her revenge.

After the war, Finch was awarded the Medal of Freedom and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon.

She will be buried with full honours in Ithaca, New York, tomorrow (Saturday, April 29).

In 1941 she married Charles Smith of the US Navy, who tragically was killed in action while defending Corregidor just six months later.

After the fall of Manila, Florence disguised her American nationality and was given a job with the Japanese-controlled Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union where she was responsible for fuel distribution vouchers.

Working with the Philippine Underground, she was able to divert fuel supplies to the resistance and help arrange acts of sabotage. She also smuggled food and medicines to the prisoner of war camps.

In October, 1944, she was imprisoned and tortured before being sentenced to three years hard labour.

After being liberated by American forces on February 10, 1945, she moved to New York to be with her father’s sister.

Once there, she enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, to, as she said, “avenge the death of my husband.”

Florence in her Coast Guard uniform

After her activities in the Philippines became known to her superiors, they awarded her the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the first woman to be so honoured.

After the war, she was discharged in May, 1946. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom in November, 1947.

Her citation read: “For meritorious service which had aided the United States in the prosecution of the war against the enemy in the Philippine Islands, from June 1942 to February 1945.

“Upon the Japanese occupation of the Philippine Islands, Mrs Finch (then Mrs Florence Ebersole Smith) believing she could be of more assistance outside the prison camp, refused to disclose her United States citizenship.

“She displayed outstanding courage and marked resourcefulness in providing vitally needed food, medicine, and supplies for American Prisoners of War and internees, and in sabotaging Japanese stocks of critical items.

“She constantly risked her life in secretly furnishing money and clothing to American Prisoners of War, and in carrying communications for them.

“In consequence she was apprehended by the Japanese, tortured, and imprisoned until rescued by American troops.

“Through her inspiring bravery, resourcefulness, and devotion to the cause of freedom, Mrs Finch made a distinct contribution to the welfare and morale of American Prisoners of War on Luzon.”

She later married Army veteran Robert Finch and they raised a family in Ithaca.

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

Of her wartime activities she would simply say: “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.”