John Finn, one of the first Americans to take up arms against the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts, died last week at age 100.
Finn was assigned to Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on that fateful Sunday nearly 70 years ago when he found himself firing at Japanese planes from an exposed position for more than two hours despite being hit 21 times by bomb and bullet fragments.
Finn was credited by some with single-handedly shooting down a Japanese aircraft, but he would later say, “I can’t honestly say (for sure) I hit any, but I shot at every damn plane I could see.”
Finn stayed at his post until he received a direct order to seek medical attention. He later said that when he got to the sick bay, he saw many men worse off than he was, so he returned to the armory and spent the rest of the day and night supervising the repair of damaged weapons in preparation for whatever came next, according to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I know this sounds corny, but on December 7, I was just doing my duty and what I had been trained and paid to do since I was 17 years old,” he said in a 1984 interview.
During the attack, Finn secured a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a training stand in an exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy machine-gun fire from Japanese planes, his Medal of Honor citation says.
“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 continues.
In military circles, Finn was comparable to a rock star, according to the Union-Tribune. “People clamored for a handshake or to have a picture taken with him wherever he went.”