The Story behind the man:
Hero was hit but downed enemy plane: A Spotlight on John William
Finn, Oldest surviving Medal of Honor recipient at Pearl Harbor
By Thomas Peele
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Posted May 24, 2004
MILLBRAE, California, site of the USS Hancock CV/CVA-19 Association's 13th Bi-Annual Reunion - You're 94 now and
for more than 60 years, it has angered you when they write about you or tell stories and get things wrong. You
didn't shoot down 20 Japanese planes on Dec.7, 1941.
You shot down one that you know of, one confirmed kill. One plane that came down almost whole, in the Hawaiian
woods, and the idiot Navy to which you devoted your life since you were 16 years old didn't have sense enough to
preserve the wreckage, tear it apart, learn something about the nation's new enemy.
There weren't 20 men around whose necks Admiral Chester W. Nimitz hung the Congressional Medal of Honor on Sept.
15, 1942, on board the USS Enterprise. There was just you, John William Finn, Pearl Harbor survivor, American hero.
The other sailors that day? They got the Navy Cross and other medals. Get it right.
You keep the medal in your pocket now and pull it out when searching for a hotel room key and pass it around. No
one else who has this medal is older than you -- you are America's elder statesman of heroism.
The Navy reunions come and go. This weekend it was the crew of the USS Hancock. You bring the medal, of course.
They all want to see it and ask you to come from San Diego County, where you live alone on your cattle ranch, your
wife dead, the steers long sold.
At 94 your arms are still lean and sinewy, as if you could fire that .50 again. You wear a golf shirt and black
boots and insist the wheelchair in the room is just for show.
You hate questions about what the medal means to you.
"I can't help but know it is the highest award," you say. "You've got to hold the fact that there
is a Medal of Honor, and you have to respect the people who have one."
You want to make sure that everything is right.
You weren't a lieutenant that day on the Enterprise. That would come later. You still had the rank you had on that
infamous morning -- munitions chief -- when you awoke to the sound of strange planes and stranger machine gun fire
at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station near Pearl Harbor and went to sleep that night in a Naval hospital, 21 wounds
in your body, the world a far different place.
That morning you had been in the Navy for 15 years. The Navy! When you saw those sailors on shore leave when you
were a kid in Los Angeles, riding the Pacific Electric Railway to your high-school dropout's job in a glove factory,
you knew you wanted to join the Navy.
In those 15 years, you learned some things. What the guns sounded like, of course, since you were in munitions,
but also the flight paths and when pilots flew. On that Sunday morning you knew something was wrong. Who the hell
flew over the barracks on Sunday morning?
You started driving for the hangars in your Ford, obeying the base's 20 mph speed limit, picking up other sailors
on the way. Then you saw a fighter and it turned and there were two red balls under the wings -- "the rising
sun" -- and the Ford was doing 80.
First you grabbed a .30-caliber machine gun, but what could that do? You ran out into the open with it anyway.
You didn't even have a proper mount for it. Then a .50-caliber jammed and you unjammed it and you started shooting
at planes. That's the thing, you say now. You shot at planes. Your country was being attacked and that is what
you did, you shot at planes. You didn't run.
Hero was hit but downed enemy plane
For two-and-half hours you shot. Shrapnel hit your arms and legs. Something blew through your foot and you stayed
on the .50. Planes were burning on the ground and in the water and you couldn't hear the men around you for the
noise of bombs and fires.
You yelled at them, "Stay on your guns." There seemed to be a break in the attack. Then you saw the holes
in your chest and stomach oozing blood. Oozing. Then in the distance you saw a speck. It grew larger and flew lower
and you told yourself not to fire yet.
The black smoke from the burning planes blew to the north and you saw this plane dip into it and then come out
and you saw its propeller turn the smoke in a circle, like a wreath. You fired, the plane coming right at you.
Maybe you got off eight rounds and they found the plane in the woods.
Then you noticed a hole through your arm and more blood and you finally relented and went to the hospital. The
doctors counted 21 holes in your body and worried about infections and that you might die.
Your name is Munitions Chief John William Finn, you tell the surgeons, and you don't need a medal to prove you're
Hiram Greer, the Hancock Association Newsletter Editor states…
Several of the Hancock Association Members have written to their U. S. Senators and their U.S. House Members concerning
the possibility of having a ship named after John W. Finn, oldest recipient of the Medal of Honor, going back to
his service at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. They are encouraging other Association members who are willing
to write to their Senators and House Representative to write letters requesting that this be considered and action
taken to help in this effort. I intend to do this and am sending a suggested letter for your use. Insert your Senator
and/or Congressman's names. You can copy and adapt it for your own use.
Letter provided by Hyram Greer,
Hannah News Editor