John Finn, 100, Dies; Received Pearl Harbor Medal
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Published: May 27, 2010
John W. Finn, the last survivor of the 15 Navy men who received the
Medal of Honor for heroism during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,
died Thursday in the San Diego area. He was 100 and had been the oldest
living recipient of the medal, the nation¹s highest award for valor.
His death was announced by Lt. Aaron Kakiel of the Navy, The Associated
On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes bombed the
American battleships in Hawaii, plunging the nation into World War II,
numerous acts of valor played out. Most of them took place aboard the
stricken ships ‹ in some cases efforts by the wounded and the dying to
save their fellow sailors. Amid the death and destruction, Chief Finn,
on an airfield runway, was waging a war of his own against the Japanese.
A few minutes before 8 o¹clock, Japanese planes attacked the Kaneohe Bay
Naval Air Station, about 12 miles from Battleship Row at Ford Island,
hoping to knock out three dozen Navy aircraft before they could get
Mr. Finn, the chief petty officer in charge of munitions at the naval
station and a veteran of 15 years in the Navy, was in bed in a nearby
apartment he shared with his wife, Alice. He heard the sound of
aircraft, saw one plane flash past his window, then another, and he
heard the firing of machine guns.
He dressed hurriedly, got into his 1938 Ford and drove to the naval
station. At first, he observed the base¹s 20 miles-per-hour speed limit.
But then, ³I heard a plane come roaring in from astern of me,² he
recalled decades later in an interview with Larry Smith for ³Beyond
Glory,² an oral history of Medal of Honor recipients.
³As I glanced up, the guy made a wing-over, and I saw that big old red
meatball, the rising sun insignia, on the underside of the wing. Well, I
threw it into second and it¹s a wonder I didn¹t run over every sailor in
the air station.²
When Chief Finn arrived at the hangars, many of the planes had already
been hit. He recalled that he grabbed a .30-caliber machine gun on a
makeshift tripod, carried it to an exposed area near a runway and began
firing. For the next two and a half hours, he blazed away, although
peppered by shrapnel as the Japanese planes strafed the runways with
As he remembered it: ³I got shot in the left arm and shot in the left
foot, broke the bone. I had shrapnel blows in my chest and belly and
right elbow and right thumb. Some were just scratches. My scalp got cut,
and everybody thought I was dying: Oh, Christ, the old chief had the top
of his head knocked off! I had 28, 29 holes in me that were bleeding. I
was walking around on one heel. I was barefooted on that coral dust. My
left arm didn¹t work. It was just a big ball hanging down.²
Chief Finn thought he had hit at least one plane, but he did not know
whether he had brought it down. When the attack ended, he received first
aid, then returned to await a possible second attack. He was
hospitalized the following afternoon.
On Sept. 15, 1942, Chief Finn received the Medal of Honor from Adm.
Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in a
ceremony aboard the carrier Enterprise at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nimitz
cited Chief Finn for his ³magnificent courage in the face of almost
John William Finn was born on July 23, 1909, in Los Angeles County, the
son of a plumber. He dropped out of school to join the Navy at age 17.
He served stateside after he recovered from his Pearl Harbor wounds,
became a lieutenant in 1944 and remained in military service until 1947.
He later owned a cattle ranch in Pine Valley, Calif., about 45 miles
east of San Diego.
His wife died in 1998. A listing of survivors was not immediately
Ten of the 15 servicemen who received the Medal of Honor for their
actions at Pearl Harbor died in the attack. Among them were Rear Adm.
Isaac C. Kidd, commander of Battleship Division 1, who was aboard the
Arizona when it blew up and sank; Capt. Franklin Van Valkenburgh,
commander of the Arizona; and Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, commander of the
battleship West Virginia.
Four of the Pearl Harbor medal recipients survived the war. Cmdr. Cassin
Young, awarded the medal for reboarding and saving his repair ship, the
Vestal, after being blown into the water, died in November 1942 in the
battle for Guadalcanal.
In 1999, Mr. Finn was among Pearl Harbor veterans invited to Hawaii for
the premiere of the Hollywood movie ³Pearl Harbor.² ³It was a damned
good movie,² he told The Boston Herald in 2001. ³It¹s helped educate
people who didn¹t know about Pearl Harbor and what happened there.²
³I liked it especially,² he said, ³because I got to kiss all those
pretty little movie actresses.²
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