Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Remarkable Memorial Day Story

A remarkable story appeared in today's Washington Post, considering that it is Memorial Day weekend:  T. Rees Shapiro reported on the obituary page the death of 100-year-old John W. Finn, the last surviving recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor from the Battle of Pearl Harbor.

The story notes that of the 15 men who eventually received the Medal of Honor for Pearl Harbor, 14 of them were cited for rescue attempts.  Finn was the only one who was cited for combat action.  The New York Times mentions that ten of them died in that battle while four survived the war.

His actions read like something from a Hollywood screenplay:

He was in bed with his wife, Alice, that Sunday when, just before 8 a.m., he heard the rumble of low-flying aircraft and sporadic machine gun fire coming from the hangar a mile away.

Amid the confusion, he threw on a pair of dungarees and his chief hat, and started driving as calmly as possible to the nearby hangar, maintaining 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," he said in an interview with Larry Smith for the 2003 book "Beyond Glory," an oral history of Medal of Honor recipients. "Well, I threw it into second, and it was a wonder I didn't run over every sailor in the air station."

When Chief Petty Officer Finn arrived at the Kaneohe Bay station, he commandeered a heavy-caliber machine gun and set it up on a makeshift tripod of spare pipes -- out in the open, where he had a clear view to give the Japanese what he called a "warm welcome."

He fired at wave after wave of strafing Japanese Zeroes for more than 2 1/2 hours, because, as he later said, "I didn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain."
In an obituary that contains much of the same information as that in the Post, Richard Goldstein adds this tidbit in the New York Times:
On Sept. 15, 1942, Chief Finn received the Medal of Honor from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in a ceremony aboard the carrier Enterprise at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nimitz cited Chief Finn for his “magnificent courage in the face of almost certain death.”
Final tributes to Lieutenant Finn will be next week. The Los Angeles Times notes:
A funeral service for Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, who died Thursday in Chula Vista at age 100, is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at El Cajon-Lakeside-Santee Mortuary and Cremation Service, 684 S. Mollison Ave. in El Cajon. A viewing is scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the same location. Burial will be in the Campo Indian Reservation cemetery.

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