It is with great sadness, and also with grateful reverence, that I write this today.
John William Finn passed away this morning at the age of 100 at his residence at the Chula Vista Veterans Home in California. At the time of his death, Finn was America's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.
Born on July 23, 1909, in Los Angeles, Finn dropped out of school after seventh grade and enlisted in the Navy in July 1926, shortly before his seventeenth birthday. In December, 1941 he was stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. On the morning of December 7, Finn was at his home about a mile from the aircraft hangars when he heard the sound of gunfire. He immediately drove to his squadron's hangars and found his men attempting to return fire on attacking Japanese aircraft.
Taking over a .50 caliber machine gun from the squadron's aircraft painter, Finn then found a movable platform used for gunnery training, attached the weapon, 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. Despite his injuries, he returned to the hangars later that day, after receiving medical treatment, and helped arm the surviving American planes.
For these actions, Finn was formally presented with the Medal of Honor on September 14, 1942, by Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
In celebration of Finn's 100th birthday, The Association of Aviation Ordnancemen presented him with an American flag which had flown on each of the 11 aircraft carriers then in active service. Finn was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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."
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.
Rest in peace sir. Godspeed.