Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Audio Review-The Indomitable Florence Fitch Interview with author Robert J. Mrazek

Seventy Five years ago tomorrow, September 2, 1945  marked the official end of WWII, the deadliest military conflict in history where a total of 70-85 million people perished. It was a time in history that should NEVER be forgotten especially now when there are so few left who lived during that time. It was also 100 years ago last month that the US passed the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Today I'm super excited to bring you the story of a very special woman, a wife, a mother, a war hero, a survivor.  And super excited to share with you a conversation with the author, Robert J. Mrazek. 
No matter the format this is a MUST READ for all!

ISBN-13: 978-0316422277
Publisher: Hatchett Books
Release Date: 9-2-2020
Length: 368pp
Source: Netgalley audio for review


“An American hero-long forgotten-finally gets her due in this riveting narrative. You will absolutely love Florence Finch: her grit, her compassion, her fight. This isn’t just history; she is a woman for our times.”

-Keith O’Brien, the New York Times bestselling author of Fly Girls

The riveting story of an unsung World War II hero who saved countless American lives in the Philippines, told by an award-winning military historian.

When Florence Finch died at the age of 101, few of her Ithaca, NY neighbors knew that this unassuming Filipina native was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, whose courage and sacrifice were unsurpassed in the Pacific War against Japan. Long accustomed to keeping her secrets close in service of the Allies, she waited fifty years to reveal the story of those dramatic and harrowing days to her own children.

Florence was an unlikely warrior. She relied on her own intelligence and fortitude to survive on her own from the age of seven, facing bigotry as a mixed-race mestiza with the dual heritage of her American serviceman father and Filipina mother.

As the war drew ever closer to the Philippines, Florence fell in love with a dashing American naval intelligence agent, Charles “Bing” Smith. In the wake of Bing’s sudden death in battle, Florence transformed from a mild-mannered young wife into a fervent resistance fighter. She conceived a bold plan to divert tons of precious fuel from the Japanese army, which was then sold on the black market to provide desperately needed medicine and food for hundreds of American POWs. In constant peril of arrest and execution, Florence fought to save others, even as the Japanese police closed in.

With a wealth of original sources including taped interviews, personal journals, and unpublished memoirs, The Indomitable Florence Finch unfolds against the Bataan Death March, the fall of Corregidor, and the daily struggle to survive a brutal occupying force. Award-winning military historian and former Congressman Robert J. Mrazek brings to light this long-hidden American patriot. The Indomitable Florence Finch is the story of the transcendent bravery of a woman who belongs in America’s pantheon of war heroes.

My conversation with author Robert J. Mrazek

Robert welcome to The Reading Frenzy.
I absolutely loved The Indomitable Florence Finch.
With the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment upon us it’s so fitting to tell the tale of this amazing heroine.
What led you to Florence and her story?
It was entirely serendipitous.  I was meeting a friend in New York City named Fred Roos, who produced the Coppola film Apocalypse Now and all the Coppola films since.  He handed me the New York Times obituary page and there was the very long obituary of Florence, who had just died at 101.  Fred was very interested in the Philippines because he spent more than a year there making Apocalypse.  What an incredible woman, he said to me, and he was right.  When I contacted Florence’s daughter, it turned out that her brother had read another of my WWII non-fiction books and he told her that if I could tell her life with the same sensitivity I wrote that one, I was the person to write the book.  This was really important because they were the keepers of the “Florence archives,” with hundreds of her pre and post-WWII letters that allowed me to gain a lot of insight into who she was as a young woman and who she became.
Florence was a true heroine but if the Coast Guard in 1995 hadn’t named a building for her, it’s possible even her children would have never known about her bravery.
Was she just humble or did it pain her to remember?
In a world today where so many people are driven to become self-aggrandizing, famous “celebrities,” it’s hard to appreciate the level of humility Florence embraced throughout her life.  She was an extremely positive person and always looked forward, rather than dwelling on the past.  She never viewed what she did in saving so many lives as heroic.   She felt the people she served with in the underground who were killed by the Japanese were the true heroes and heroines.
Florence had such an unshakable spirit, overcoming her war wounds and starting over, moving to the states and living to the ripe old age of 101.
What do you think kept her going?
Florence was both an optimist and a realist.  She survived so many hurdles in life, a traumatic childhood, the bigotry of the American and British expatriates who looked at Mestizas (half Caucasian, half Filipina) as racially inferior, the death of her first husband in battle, torture by the Japanese Kempeitai (police), and coming alone to America to start a new life.   She took on every new challenge with a sense of purpose that was inexhaustible.  Having come so close to death during the war, she savored every day going forward.
It’s not often we read about WWII stories set in the Philippines, yet in your book The Indomitable Florence Finch I’ve met many book worthy individuals.
Is there really a lack of WWII Philippine stories or am I just looking in the wrong places?
Compared to the other theaters of WWII in the Pacific as well as Europe, the Philippine stories have not generated the same level of literary attention, although the defeat of the American army at the start of WWII and the subsequent Bataan “death march” have been told through many voices.
We have read many stories about the atrocities done by the Nazis yet the Japanese military portrayed in this book are their equals in abuse and murder.
Were there not rules in place at the time as how to treat POWs, detainees and occupied civilians?
The 1929 Geneva Convention provided the regulations on how prisoners of war were to be treated, but the Empire of Japan never signed the agreement.  Under their Bushido (warrior) code, to surrender was viewed as cowardly and the Japanese had nothing but contempt for prisoners of war who came under their control.  Their police organization, the Kempeitai, was the equivalent of the German Gestapo, and just as brutal in its treatment of civilians under Japanese authority.
Your book is jam packed with details, names, dates, places and people yet I never found it too wordy or tedious, you kept my rapt attention throughout the book and in fact it was incredibly hard to put down.
Is there a particular technique you use in your writing process?
My writing influences include C.S. Forester, John D. McDonald, and Charlotte Bronte.  Like them, I have always aimed to tell my stories in a simple, straightforward, and hopefully evocative way. With non-fiction, I’m committed to hueing to the truth and recording dramatic events without hyperbole.  A story with the exciting and dramatic elements of Florence’s adventures during the war doesn’t require exaggeration.  It needed a good calibration of action and back story, as well as the weaving together of her personal actions against the backdrop of the larger landscape in the war.  I’m glad you feel that I met that test.
I have a passion for WWII stories it doesn’t matter whether they’re non-fiction, based on facts or totally made up. It was such an important time in our history and with so few individuals remaining that lived through it, it’s even more important to tell their stories so the rest of us never forget. So I thank you for intimating me with this incredible woman.
Will you tell us what your next story will be about?
After eleven books, I must confess that I don’t have another project that I’m excited to undertake right now.  In these unprecedented times, my wife and I are focused on family, particularly grandchildren, and staying safe until there is a vaccine.  If the past holds true, there may well be story ideas percolating in my sub-conscious mind that will eventually appear.
Robert thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Good luck with the book!
Thanks, and again, my appreciation to you for your kind words.  Florence’s spirit lives on.

My Audio review:

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

What a wonderful recounting of yet another brave and selfless hero of WWII who the world just lost three years ago. The author starts from her beginnings and leaves out no detail of this amazing woman’s personal happiness’s and tragedies. Nor does he leave out the brutalities brought on to not only her but also the horrors to the thousands of POWs, and Philippine citizens during the occupation by the Japanese captors. Readers will learn about her first marriage to Charles (Bing) Smith and his courageous death saving a life at the beginning of the war. About her sacrifices to help the POWs during the occupation and her eventual capture and torture and the fact that she weighed less than 80lbs when she was finally and miraculously rescued by American troops in 1945. The audience will also learn about her move the to states, her second marriage, the birth of her daughter and son and the fact that when in 1995 the Coast Guard announced that they were naming a building in Hawaii in her honor her children knew nothing about her heroics during the war. This is the life story about the importance of never forgetting these heroes from the war the world must never forget about either. If you’re a history buff especially a lover of WWII non-fiction this is definite must read for you. And if you love to read about the heroism and the indomitable spirits of women put this high on your must read list and it will be a fixture on your keeper shelf.
The narration by Dan Woren is wonderful his clear resonant voice punctuates all the highs and lows of this incredible woman’s life, her sacrifices and her successes.
Born in 1915 to an American father and Filipina mother little did Florence Ebersole know that she’d play a major role in saving lives and in aiding the war effort in the Philippines during WWII, yet this indomitable fierce spirited woman did just that. She not only worked behind the scenes for US military intelligence before the start of war, but aided the POWs and Philippine civilians during the Japanese occupation until eventually getting arrested that led to her own torture. She lived to be 101 and died peacefully in 2017, she was twice widowed and survived by two children and grandchildren.

About the author:
Bob Mrazek graduated from Cornell University, served in the U.S. Navy, and served five terms in the U.S. Congress. Mrazek authored the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which brought nineteen thousand children of Americans who served in Vietnam to the USA. He also authored the National Film Preservation Act, which established the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress to protect films of cultural importance.
Since leaving Congress, Mrazek has authored ten books, earning the American Library Association’s top honor for military fiction, the Michael Shaara award for Civil War fiction, and Best Book (American History) from the Washington Post. He also wrote and co-directed the 2016 feature film The Congressman. He lives in upstate New York and Maine.