World War II Philippine rescues
save AG missionaries
This month marks the 60th anniversary of dramatic rescues of thousands of prisoners of war and the many Western civilians who had been trapped on the Philippine Islands as World War II began. Of this number, nine were Assemblies of God missionaries and their four children.
Early in February 1945 the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry rushed some 1,000 men and equipment 100 miles to Manila to liberate 3,700 civilians and army nurses at Santo Tomas University. The next night, a few blocks away, the 37th Infantry Division liberated some 1,300 POWs and civilians at the Old Bilibid Prison.
Before the month ended, the 11th Airborne and the Philippine guerrillas even outdid the other dramatic raids by parachuting and sweeping into Los Banos, behind enemy lines, and then ferrying 2,100 civilian internees across a lake. Included in that number were Assemblies of God missionaries Blanche Appleby and Rena Baldwin.*
Here’s an update on the missionaries after those tragic internment years.
Gladys Knowles Finkenbinder, 87, the only living missionary of the nine, returned to China and remained until the communist takeover in 1949. She and her late husband, Frank Finkenbinder Jr., ministered as home missionaries to the blind in the Denver area.
Doris Carlson returned to China but also had to leave in 1949. Elizabeth Galley (later Wilson) accepted a missions position at Southwestern Assemblies of God College. She later served in Africa after marrying missionary A.E. Wilson.
Robert and Mildred Tangen — whose son Robert Jr. was born in the prison camp — returned to China and pioneered a church in Hankow but also had to leave in 1949 with the change in government. After pastoring in the Northwest for several years, they prepared for missionary service in South America. However, Robert died in 1975 just before they were scheduled to leave. Mildred later served in Taiwan.
Rena Baldwin returned to the Philippines, but health problems forced her to retire from missionary service. She later married former missionary to North India, Alexander Lindsay.
Blanche Appleby never returned to missionary service because of her age, but she did minister in a Sunday School class and a Bible study in Atlanta until she was 80.
Leland and Helen Johnson pastored, evangelized and promoted missions after returning to the U.S. in 1945. Their three children — including Margaret Joy who was born in prison — also survived the prison camps, and Helen gave birth to two additional children after the war.
These nine missionaries and their children at tremendous cost set a powerful example for their descendants, nationals, other missionaries, and the church at home. Helen Johnson even thought that their 37-month imprisonment was God’s will. She wrote, “The Philippine church was forced underground and came out stronger than ever.”
And about that dramatic rescue, she and others would never forget when General Douglas MacArthur was driven through the Bilibid gate, stepped out of his Jeep, and greeted each of the internees.
It was a great day to be alive.
*The History Channel documented this rescue in 2004 with Rescue at Dawn. The Assemblies of God Heritage is currently publishing feature stories on the rescues.
— Wayne Warner, director
Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center