Medal recipient in Pearl Harbor attack 'a real hero'
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, one of the oldest and most celebrated survivors of the attack that targeted Pearl Harbor, died yesterday, the Navy said. He was 100.
Finn fired a machine gun at Japanese planes over the Kāne'ohe Marine base despite being wounded many times. He was the nation's oldest Medal of Honor recipient and the last living recipient from the Pearl Harbor attack.
Finn died at a nursing home in Chula Vista, Calif.
Last year, the Navy named one of its newest USS Arizona Memorial shuttle boats the John W. Finn.
Daniel Martinez, National Park Service historian at the Arizona Memorial, said he is often asked about the shuttle's name and responds with the story of a brave man who did his best to shoot down the enemy over American soil on Dec. 7, 1941.
"I felt like I was looking at a real hero. And that hero was John," Martinez said.
"I knew him well. He was very much a no-nonsense person. Not in a strict sense of the word, but in the sense that he never left the military. He was colorful and had a great sense of humor."
Finn retired from the Navy in 1956 as a lieutenant.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, himself a Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, said, "We have lost a great patriot today and I extend my condolences to Mr. Finn's family. Like all grateful Americans, I will remember him for his courage and his love of country. I hope that we all remember him with gratitude for the sacrifices he made in defense of our great nation."
Finn was stationed at what was then called Kāne'ohe Bay Naval Air Station (now Marine Corps Base Hawai'i) when the attack on Pearl Harbor began Dec. 7, 1941. He was at home in bed with his wife, Alice, when he heard the gunfire, Martinez said.
He ran outside, checked out the situation and drove full speed to Hangar 3, where he set up a .50-caliber machine gun outside. In plain view of the Japanese planes, he began to 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, with complete disregard for his own personal safety," Finn's Medal of Honor citation reads.
Finn received 21 distinct wounds, including a bullet through the foot and an injury that caused him to lose feeling in his left arm.
"I just got a gun and I started shooting. ... I picked up a little shrapnel here and there," Finn was once quoted as saying.
He is survived by a son, Joseph.
Finn, the son of a Los Angeles plumber, joined the Navy when he was 17.
He attended last March's National Medal of Honor Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. With the aid of walking sticks, he stood beside President Obama at a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, according to military records. He later was a guest at the White House.
Ray Emory, a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said that like most veterans, Finn never thought of himself as a hero — just someone doing his or her job.
"He was kind of a character in his own way," Emory said. "I've had many conversations with John Finn. He was a rough old chief to start with who never thought of himself as a hero.
"I don't know many Medal of Honor recipients who would consider themselves heroes."