May 27

Remembering Lt. John Finn, USN

Thursday, May 27, 2010 8:06 PM


John William Finn was a Chief Petty Officer serving at Naval Air Station Kanoehe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii on 7 December 1941, during the Japanese air raid that struck that facility and others on Oahu. Chief Finn manned a machine gun and effectively fired on the enemy planes despite the receipt of several painful wounds. For his heroism at that time, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In June 1942, Finn was temporarily commissioned as an Ensign, rising in rank to Lieutenant two years later.

Lt. John Finn, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on December 7, 1941 died today at the Veterans Home of California in Chula Vista.At 100, Finn was the oldest surviving recipient of the nation’s highest medal for valor and the only recipient still alive among those who received the medal for actions during the attack of Dec. 7, 1941.

Last year, NHHC Photo Curator Robert Hanshew interviewed Finn for our Facebook Fan Page:

The following are excerpts from that interview.

Question: When you realized the Japanese were attacking what went through your mind?

“I thought they were doing a fantastic job in wrecking the place. They really knew what they were doing and [must have been] studying to perform this attack for years. They were doing really well, especially with our carriers being out of the way,” said the lieutenant. He was only a mile away, at his base residence, when the Japanese attacked. When he got to the air field he manned a .50 caliber machine gun, made an improvised gun mount, and fought back at an exposed section of a parking ramp.

Question: Though wounded and treated for injuries you returned to ensure planes were rearmed. “A lot of men were shot during this time, a lot of shot-up men. I was angry.”

At Kaneohe Bay 19 men were shot. Finn said it was better to be there than at Pearl Harbor where more than 2,000 men died. He added, “We had ordnance gun crews, but no stationary gun mounts. We could have done a better job if we had had those mounts.” Proudly, he stated, “Every man was determined to find a machine gun to fight back and we did what we could to fight and turn them away.”

Question: How many times were you wounded?

“I had 21 wounds, though I seemed to hardly notice because of the heavy enemy machine gun fire during the attack. The men felt proud as we fought them off.”

Question: How did you feel on the day you received the Medal of Honor.

“It was not a very happy occasion. It was a tragic day for my family. My baby brother died on the exact same day I was awarded the Medal”

Question: What were you thinking when you were awarded the Medal of Honor?

“I was frightened getting the Medal at the ceremony, where Admiral William F. Halsey was also in attendance.” But he was glad he didn’t have to go all the way to Washington, D.C. to get the award from President Roosevelt.

Question: “If you enlisted in the Navy today, what would you be most interested in?

“I would be doing the same thing [that I was doing] when I first came in. I left school after completing eighth grade. I couldn’t do anything with math. When I was seventeen, I joined the Navy. I never wanted to be burden to my family. After finishing my training, I realized I was born to have done what I was doing in the US Navy. To this day, I still feel the same.”

Question: do you have any advice for sailors, or any service members, just enlisting today?

“They should still maintain their American ideals, respect the flag, and learn to work. No matter what age they are — the youth of today should respect their parents. Work to the best of your ability. Life isn’t a bed of roses, but one should keep ones faith to complete a good job. Upon that, the young sailors of today will achieve.”

Editors note: Photo Curator Robert Hanshew has worked at the Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph Section for the past ten years. A former Navy veteran, he received his degrees from the University of Maryland and Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. He has worked on the Medal of Honor project, specifically for the past five years. Lt. John W. Finn turned 100 years old on 24 July 2009.

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