Pearl Harbor hero is 100 years old today

By Harold J. Schachter

This edition of the Ramona Sentinel is dated the same day that Medal of Honor recipient John William Finn turns 100.

Some of you reading this will recognize who John Finn is. I suspect, however, that most of you will not.

John William Finn is our nation’s oldest living recipient of its highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor (MoH). He is also the last surviving MoH recipient who earned his medal on Dec. 7, 1941, the last living recipient of the Navy’s MoH from World War II, and the only MoH recipient having his Navy rating, that of an Aviation Ordnanceman, to ever be awarded the MoH in the history of the United States Navy.

John William Finn was born in Los Angeles on July 23, 1909. In July of 1926, as soon as John turned 17, he enlisted in the Navy.  When, on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Hawaii, then a U.S. Territory, John was 32 years old and had attained the rank of Chief Petty Officer (CPO), then the highest enlisted non-commissioned officer rank in the naval service.

John was stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, about 15 miles east-northeast of Pearl Harbor, on Oahu’s southeastern shore.  Chief Finn had recognized the air station’s vulnerability to possible air attack and had strongly recommended to his superiors that they take measures to establish anti-aircraft defenses to protect the naval base from possible attack, but his urgings, for whatever reasons, were ignored. So, when the attack came on that first Sunday morning in December, Chief Finn single-handedly mounted a 50-caliber machine gun on a stand on the base’s aircraft parking ramp and began firing on any attacking enemy aircraft that he could bear on.

John’s position was totally exposed to enemy strafing and bombing attacks, but he kept it up for more than two hours while under attack, despite being wounded five times and in severe pain. Fellow sailors implored him to seek medical care for his wounds, but John steadfastly refused to vacate his firing position until he received a direct order to do so from a superior officer.

Twenty pieces of shrapnel were removed from John’s body by the base’s medical staff.

John has remarked that, while he was scared, being exposed like that, he “was so damn mad” that what he feared might happen was now happening and that all his warnings and urgings had been in vain.  He’s said that his anger overruled his fear and he kept on shooting.

John’s actions that Dec. 7th morning were briefly depicted by an unnamed and uncredited actor in the 1970 epic motion picture, Tora! Tora! Tora!

On Sept. 15, 1942, CPO John William Finn received his Medal of Honor, the first one to be awarded in World War II. It was presented to him by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in a ceremony aboard the Big “E,” the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6).  

Some 27 months later, on Dec. 19, 1944, Adm. Nimitz would receive a fifth star designating him a Fleet Admiral (FADM). Nimitz would become the last surviving FADM of the four FADMs who were appointed, when he died on Feb. 20, 1966.

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