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John William Finn
Born July 23, 1909 (1909-07-23) (age 100)
John William Finn.jpg
John William Finn wearing his Medal of Honor
Place of birth Los Angeles, California
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1926-1956
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II
 • Attack on Pearl Harbor
Awards Medal of Honor
Purple Heart

Lieutenant John William Finn (born July 23, 1909) is a retired officer of the United States Navy who received the Medal of Honor in recognition of heroism and distinguished service during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

At age 100, Finn is the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient and is also the only living Pearl-Harbor-Day Medal of Honor recipient.[1]

Contents

Early life and career

Born on July 23, 1909, in Los Angeles, California, Finn dropped out of school after seventh grade.[2] He enlisted in the Navy in July 1926, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, and received recruit training in San Diego.[2][3] After a brief stint with a ceremonial guard company, he attended General Aviation Utilities Training at Naval Station Great Lakes, graduating in December. By April 1927 he was back in the San Diego area, having been assigned to Naval Air Station North Island. He initially worked in aircraft repair before becoming an aviation ordnanceman and working on anti-aircraft guns. He then served on a series of ships: the USS Lexington (CV-2), the USS Houston (CA-30), the USS Jason (AC-12), the USS Saratoga (CV-3), and the USS Cincinnati (CL-6). After being promoted to chief petty officer in about 1936, he served with patrol squadrons in San Diego, Washington, and Panama.[3]

Attack on Pearl Harbor

By December 1941, Finn was stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. As a chief aviation ordnanceman, he was in charge of twenty men whose primary task was to maintain the weapons of a PBY Catalina flying boat squadron. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Finn was at his home, about a mile from the aircraft hangars, when he heard the sound of gunfire. Finn recalled how a neighbor was the first to alert him, when she knocked on his door saying, "They want you down at the squadron right away!". he drove to the hangars (seeing Japanese planes in the sky on the way) and found that the airbase was being attacked, with most of the PBYs already on fire.

His men were trying to fight back by using the machine guns mounted in the PBYs, either by firing from inside the flaming planes or by detaching the guns and mounting them on improvised stands. In 2009 Finn explained one of the first things he did was take control of a machine gun from his squadron's painter. "I said, 'Alex, let me take that gun'...knew that I had more experience firing a machine gun than a painter." [1]

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Heroism

Finn then found a movable platform used for gunnery training, attached the .50 caliber machine gun, and pushed the platform into an open area, from which he had a clear view of the attacking aircraft. He fired on the Japanese planes for the next two hours, even after being seriously wounded, until the attack had ended. In total, he received 21 distinct wounds, including a bullet through the foot and an injury which rendered his left arm numb.

"I got that gun and I started shooting at Jap planes," Finn said in a 2009 interview.

"I was out there shooting the Jap planes and just every so often I was a target for some," Finn said. "They were Japanese fighter plane pilots. I can remember seeing, in some cases, I could see their faces."

Despite his injuries, he returned to the hangars later that day, after receiving medical treatment, and helped arm the surviving American planes.[2]

For these actions, Finn was formally presented with the Medal of Honor on September 14, 1942, by Admiral Chester Nimitz. The ceremony occurred in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Enterprise (CV-6).[2]

During the remainder of World War II, he served as a Limited Duty Officer Ensign and eventually as a Lieutenant with Bombing Squadron VB-102 and aboard the USS Hancock (CV-19). He retired from the Navy in the rank of Lieutenant in September 1956.

Decorations

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Finn's decorations include the Purple Heart; Navy Good Conduct Medal with two bronze stars; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; and the Navy Occupation Service Medal.[4]

Later life

Finn, seated at bottom right, with other Medal of Honor recipients during a celebration of his 100th birthday.

Finn currently lives in on a ranch in Live Oak Springs, near Pine Valley, California.[5]

On March 25, 2009, he attended National Medal of Honor Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. With the aid of walking sticks, he stood beside U.S. President Barack Obama during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Later that day, Finn was a guest at the White House. It was his first visit to the White House, and his first time meeting a sitting President.

In celebration of Finn's 100th birthday, a national aviation ordnance association presented him with an American flag which had flown on each of the 11 aircraft carriers then in active service.[5]

Finn is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as being the oldest living recipient.[1] As of 2009, Finn is the only Aviation Ordnanceman Medal Of Honor recipient in the history of the rate. In addition to all of this, his medal of honor is the only medal of its kind with a citation on the back side of it explaining all that happened to him and why he has the medal.

When called a hero during a 2009 interview Finn responded.

"That damned hero stuff is a bunch crap, I guess. Well, it is one thing that I think any man that is in that, you gotta be in that position," Finn said. "You gotta understand that there's all kinds of heroes, but they never get a chance to be in a hero's position."

Medal of Honor citation

John W. Finn (left) in 2001
For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kanoehe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lieutenant Finn promptly secured and manned a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machine-gun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy's fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. 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. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[6]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b "Medal of Honor recipient turning 100". Navy Times. Associated Press. May 29, 2009. http://www.navytimes.com/news/2009/05/ap_moh_recipient_100_052909/. Retrieved 2009-06-02.  
  2. ^ a b c d Collier, Peter (2006). Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. New York: Workman Publishing Company. p. 83. ISBN 9781579653149.  
  3. ^ a b Leahy, J. F. (2004). Ask the Chief: Backbone of the Navy. Naval Institute Press. pp. 191. ISBN 9781591144601. http://books.google.com/books?id=ljcFDOC6q3UC.  
  4. ^ "John Finn, Medal of Honor Recipient".
  5. ^ a b Wilkens, John (July 25, 2009). "Ex-sailor, 100, to get special birthday salute". The San Diego Union-Tribune. http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/jul/25/1m25finn234155-ex-sailor-100-get-special-birthday-/?military&zIndex=138111. Retrieved 2009-07-29.  
  6. ^ "MOH Citation for John Finn", HomeofHeroes.com.

References

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Naval History & Heritage Command.

External links

Further reading

  • Smith, Larry (2003). Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their own Words. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393325628.   See Chapter 4 — "John William Finn" (Retrieved on 2007-10-26)

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