A century of honor, courage, and commitment.
"We figured out damn quick that they were attacking," he said. "I knew that no matter what, what those enemy pilots were doing wasn't going to go unpunished, either by myself on that day or by our country in the future."
Finn attached a 50-caliber machine gun to a moveable platform normally used to train gunners. He pushed the platform to an area in which he could clearly see the Japanese planes; the trouble is that the enemy pilots had a clear view of him as well.
For two hours, Finn fired no the Japanese, with shrapnel hitting him 21 times, mainly in his chest and abdomen. A bullet went through his foot and his left arm became numb. Some of the shrapnel "went in my thumb and my elbow," remembered Finn. "They were the worst ones I had because they hurt like hell." He had to be ordered to seek medical help before he would leave his post. Even so, he went back to the hangars after the attack and supervised re-arming the remaining aircraft. The Navy aide station sent him to the hospital, where he spent 14 days in sick bay.
Finn was responsible for at least one confirmed kill, but he insists that it was the actions of several men that brought down the enemy plane.
This year marking his 100th birthday, Finn is the only aviation ordnanceman to receive the Medal of Honor and is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from "the day of infamy,"
His award was presented Sept. 14, 1942, aboard USS Enterprise (CV 6) in Pearl Harbor by Adm. Chester Nimitz, with Adm. William Halsey Jr. present, and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
According to Finn, "So many pearl Harbor survivors were just young recruits. I had been in the Navy 15 years and had been a chief petty officer for six years. That's as high as an enlisted man could go without seeking a commission." Making chief in 1935 involved a substantial pay raise: from $21 to $99 per month.
In the early 1930s he was part of the Asiatic Fleet and sailed 600 miles up the Yangtze River and the coast of China en route to the Philippines. He retired in 1956 as a lieutenant.
In the run-up to Finn's 100th birthday, Navy and Marine Corps aviation ordnancemen stationed at NSA Bahrain raised the flag in his honor. The same flag was flown aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73), USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) while those vessels were at sea. The flag was then flown aboard all aircraft carriers at Naval Station Norfolk before presentation to Finn.
"He demonstrates the valor of what an aviation ordnanceman can do when faced with adversity," said AOC Charles Mifsud, who referred to Finn as the unofficial grandfather of the aviation ordnanceman rate. "He's the inspiration we have to continue our job and ensure that we get our job done."
"Everybody needs a hero, and John Finn is the hero of the aviation ordnance community," said Lt. Marcus Creighton, U.S Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT).
When asked the secret of longevity, Finn replied, "Just keep breathing."
Howkins is assigned to Defense Media Activity-Anacosita, Washington, D.C.
Upper Left Medal of Honor recipient Lt. John Finn (Ret.) circa 1942
Following the December 2007 unveiling of the fourth hole market at the Navy/Marine Golf Course, Medal of Honor recipient Lt. John finn (Ret) talks to local media. The gold course features similar markers for all 15 Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor recipients. Finn received the Medal of Honor in recognition of heroism and distinguished service during the Japanese attack.
Story by MC2 Geraldine A. Hawkins