Just before 8:00 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Chief Petty Officer John Finn awoke to the sound of airplanes flying overhead and gunfire. He quickly threw on some clothes, jumped in his car and headed for the base, keeping his speedometer below the base’s 20-mph speed limit.
“I got around, and I heard a plane come roaring in from astern of me. As I glanced up, the guy made a wing-over and I saw that big old red meatball, the rising sun insignia, on the underside of the wing,” Finn recalled in a 2003 interview. “Well, I threw it into second, and it was a wonder I didn’t run over every sailor in the air station.”
Although Japan had not yet declared war on the United States, Japanese aircraft carriers had launched the first wave of 183 aircraft in a “sneak attack” on the anchored U.S. fleet. Another wave of 170 planes would strike just after 8:30 a.m., in all killing 2345 military personnel, 57 civilians, damaging or destroying hundreds of aircraft, sinking four battleships, two destroyers, and damaging numerous other ships.
The 32 year-old Finn arrived at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station where the PBY Catalina seaplanes were based. All but six of the base’s 33 Catalinas were destroyed by the Japanese, and the only seaplanes that could still function were those that had been out on an anti-submarine patrol. Some of his men were inside aircraft that were on fire, shooting the planes’ machine guns at Japanese aircraft overhead. As men scrambled to improvise firing platforms for the machine guns, Finn commandeered a .50 caliber and mounted it on an instruction stand normally used for teaching gunnery.
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
JOHN WILLIAM FINN
for service as set forth in the following
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 machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun 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.
Born: 24 July 1909, Los Angeles, Calif…. Served as Chief Petty Officer before receiving his commission… Only Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor recipient for combat actions… Retired as Lieutenant in 1956… Departed 27 May 2010