Sign-up to receive our free newsletter.
By Mr. Curmudgeon:
When the distant sound of machine-gun fire broke the quiet of a Sunday Hawaiian morning in 1941, U.S. Navy Lieutenant John Finn got out of bed, dressed quickly, jumped into his car and headed in the direction of the commotion. He was in no hurry, maintaining the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station’s 20-mile-an-hour speed limit. That is, until a Japanese war plane, emblazoned with a rising sun insignia, flew overhead.
Arriving at the base, he commandeered a heavy machine-gun and propped it atop a hastily constructed tripod made of spare pipes. Out in the open, to get a clear view of approaching Japanese aircraft, Finn later said he was determined to give the enemy “a warm welcome.”
Of the fifteen Congressional Medal of Honor citations awarded for that Sunday morning’s acts of valor, fourteen were for rescue efforts. Finn’s was the only medal awarded for combat.
The quiet majesty of his citation, written in simple language, allow his actions to speak:
“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, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. 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 U.S. Naval Service.”
Many Americans would follow Finn’s example in answer to that December day of infamy.
John Finn died on May 27, 2010, at the age of 100.