May 28, 2010, - 12:30 pm

John Finn, RIP: WWII Hero Dies Just Ahead of Memorial Day

By Debbie Schlussel

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: , , , , ,

17 Responses

Considering that Lt. Finn’s heroism was in Hawaii, the President should give special recognition to him on Memorial Day.

Thank you and G-d bless, Lt. Finn. RIP.

Alain41 on May 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude/thanks to all the men and woman who have served and continue to serve today. Their sacrifice is one that should never be taken lightly. It`s because of these men and woman that Americans enjoy the freedoms and liberties we hold dear to our hearts. My love goes out to the families of people who served our military too. G-d Bless them ALL. I would have to say, that Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the 4th of July are my favorite holidays. I sometimes think some Americans have forgotten the true meaning and importance of these aforementioned holidays. On this Memorial Day, please take a moment and say a prayer for the military personnel of past and present. G-d Bless you all and all Americans. And have a safe holiday weekend.

Rick S on May 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm

What a difference between this humble hero and our elected representatives. If John F#cking Kerry had been awarded the Medal of Honor, I bet he would never take it off of his chest and display it prominently for all to see, 24/7/365.

Please say a prayer for all of our fallen vets, as well as for all of those who fight for our freedoms today so that we can post on this site. Semper Fi to all of my brothers.

Jarhead on May 28, 2010 at 2:32 pm

One of the Greatest Generation… what an amazing life and a true hero.

John Finn, RIP. Your country sends its gratitude. May you find your reward in Heaven.

NormanF on May 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Unfortunately, this will get buried by the reports of Gary Coleman’s death…

arby on May 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Arby: I remember how furious I was when Mother Teresa’s death, may she rest in peace, got less publicity than Princess Di’s death.

    Miranda Rose Smith on May 30, 2010 at 5:57 am

To alain41: the messiah probably never heard of him even if Mr. Finn was at the white house during the messiah reign.

chuck601 on May 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

John Finn, RIP. Thank you for your service.

JeffE on May 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Remember Pearl Harbor — Keep America Alert!

(Now deceased) America’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 101st year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, U. S. Navy (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, “The Day of Infamy”, Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

Visit my photo album tribute:

San Diego, California

TetVet68 on May 28, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I doubt that there was anything negative someone could say about this man. From the little that I know of his century here he really was a selfless, humble man. He regularly invited strangers into his home, and “…took in several children from the Campo Indian Reservation during their years in East County.” [from San Diego Union Tribune]. I spent half a day in his home last year listening to his wonderful sea stories.
Although he retired a Lieutenant, the picture of Chief John Finn that Debbie has shown above will forever be etched in my mind. Unity. Service. Navigation. I have sorrow in my heart now that you have passed on, John Finn. I hope that you are with your wife and others who preceded you. May G-d grant you eternal peace.

nadie on May 28, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Fair winds and following seas, sir.

Sick_Boy on May 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Amen to that.

    Miranda Rose Smith on May 30, 2010 at 5:58 am

Straight out of Compton. Giving that a whole new meaning. Wow that is an great war story.

Monique LaChappa, tribal chairwoman of the Campo Band of Mission Indians of the Kumeyaay Nation, lauded Finn as a devoted friend who became a foster parent, with his late wife, Alice, to five children from the reservation.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping my people to see a different way,” LaChappa said, her voice trembling.

RIP, John Finn.

CaliforniaScreaming on May 29, 2010 at 12:45 am

Mr. Finn, I salute you sir.

walt reed on May 29, 2010 at 7:52 am

gullets and bombs hit around him on the base at Kaneohe Bay in Oahu.

Dear Ms. Schlussel: Shavuah Tov. I think you mean “bullets.”

Miranda Rose Smith on May 30, 2010 at 5:32 am

“Remember the heros, who fought for the right to choose”…Sammy Hagar,1985 We owe it to this man, and others, to keep the USA strong.

Truth on May 31, 2010 at 9:38 am

A Great, Great Man. Once upon a time we had many men such as these.

Occam's Tool on September 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Leave a Reply

* denotes required field