May 28, 2010, - 12:30 pm
It’s coincidence and sadness that just before the day on which America remembers its fallen heroes on Monday’s Memorial Day, retired Navy Lieutenant John Finn passed away.
Finn was the oldest living World War II recipient of the Medal of Honor and was 100 when he died yesterday. He earned this highest U.S. military honor for his uncommon valor, courage, and heroism at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked on December 7, 1941. Even though he had head wounds and other serious injuries from the Japanese attack, he continuously fired a machine gun from an exposed position for two hours, as gullets and bombs hit around him on the base at Kaneohe Bay in Oahu.
He was 100 years old.
Although he was a guest of honor at numerous gatherings of veterans and Medal of Honor recipients — including at the White House, where he was greeted by President Obama — Finn routinely declined to accept the accolade of hero.
“I can’t believe this,” Finn told the more than 500 people who gathered last year at a local diner to celebrate his birthday. “All I ever was was an old swab jockey…. What I did I was being paid for.”
Rousted from bed by the explosions that chaotic morning in Hawaii, Finn immediately manned a machine gun and began firing at the Japanese attack planes that swooped low over the naval air station at Kaneohe Bay on their way to their primary target, the U.S. planes and ships at Pearl Harbor.
“I loved the Navy,” he often told reporters, “and that day I was just furious because the Japanese caught us napping and made us pay for it.”
Wounded numerous times by bullets and shrapnel, Finn refused to be evacuated. His leadership and courage gave heart to dazed sailors to begin fighting back against the new enemy.
Born July 23, 1909, in Los Angeles, John William Finn attended high school in Compton and enlisted in the Navy at age 17. Before being stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Finn had served in the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone and China and aboard ships in the north Atlantic.
At Kaneohe Bay, he was a chief petty officer and an aviation ordnance chief assigned to maintain the weaponry on a PBY Catalina flying boat squadron.
When the attack began, Finn found a .50-caliber machine gun in the armory and mounted it on an instruction platform, which provided him with no protection. Despite his wounds, he kept firing and reloading for more than two hours.
“It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention,” according to the Medal of Honor citation. “Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes.”
During the war, Finn served as an instructor and aboard several ships, including aircraft carriers. Promoted to the officer ranks, he left active duty in 1947 and joined the reserves. He retired in 1956 as a lieutenant.
In retirement, he worked as a gunsmith, ran a salvage yard and raised horses and cattle. He spoke often of the Navy as a good career choice for young men and women.
John Finn, a Truly Great American, Rest In Peace.
Tags: 100, John Finn, Medal of Honor, Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy, World War II