Lt. John William Finn: Pearl Harbor's Last Hero, 68 Years Later
11:30 AM, Dec 7, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
There were fifteen men awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Only five survived that horrible day. Only one of them remains.
Lt. John William Finn, USN (Ret.) turned 100 years old on July 23 of this year, and he'll be attending the Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremony at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial today in Hawaii, returning to the Kaneohe Bay waters where he mounted an impressive one-man attack on Japanese fighter planes in the ambush that pulled the U.S. into World War II. Because the bay was attacked several minutes before Pearl Harbor proper, Finn is often called the first Medal of Honor recipient of World War II.
Finn was 17 when he joined the Navy in 1926, eventually getting stationed at Pearl Harbor as an aviation ordnanceman, in charge of anti-aircraft guns, missiles, torpedoes, and distribution of small arms. On the morning of Dec. 7, a neighbor came to his door shouting, "They want you down at the squadron right away!"
Before he could see any battleships, he saw Japanese aircraft in the sky as he drove toward the bay. When he arrived on the scene, he wrested a .50 caliber machine gun from his squadron's painter:
He put the gun on a makeshift mount, moving it to an open and vulnerable area, where he could clearly see enemy aircraft. Finn was wounded -some reports say more than 20 times- as he stood in the open under Japanese fire. This is the citation for his Medal of Honor:
"I was out there shooting the Jap planes and just every so often I was a target for some... They were Japanese fighter plane pilots. I can remember seeing, in some cases, I could see their faces," " Finn told CNN this summer. "Medical help comes later. If you're busy shooting a machine gun or a rifle or a pistol or doing anything, you can't worry about getting medical attention."
He says it in the matter-of-fact tone we've come to expect from the generation we call the greatest, and spurns all the hero talk:
This summer, the Navy gave Finn a birthday present befitting a hero, whether he likes the title or not: