Pearl Harbor Hero Stories

Pearl Harbor Hero Stories: John Finn

Many Pearl Harbor hero stories have surfaced since the tragic attacks that took place on December 7, 1941. One of those stories comes from the heroism of Lieutenant John William Finn of the United States Navy.

Pearl Harbor Hero Stories: John Finn

Just before 8:00, Japanese planes began to attack the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, in the hopes of wiping out about three dozen Navy aircraft before they could take flight.

John Finn dropped out of school to join the U.S. Navy at age 17. As the chief petty officer in charge of munitions at the naval station in Pearl Harbor and a 15-year Navy veteran, Finn was in bed in an apartment nearby with his wife, Alice.

He suddenly heard planes overhead, saw an aircraft zoom by his window, followed by another. Then, he heard machine guns blasting.

He quickly dressed before driving over to the station. Ignoring the base’s 20-mph speed limit, he sped over to where the action was taking place.

“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 recounted. “Well, I threw it into second and it’s a wonder I didn’t run over every sailor in the air station.”

When he arrived at the plane hangars, many of the aircraft had already been hit. Making this one of the most amazing Pearl Harbor hero stories, Finn then grabbed a .30-caliber machine gun, carried it to an exposed area near a runway and began firing at the Japanese aircraft. For the next two and a half hours, he fired away—all the while being pummeled by shrapnel as Japanese attackers fired at the runways.

“I got shot in the left arm and shot in the left foot, broke the bone,” Finn said. “I had shrapnel blows in my chest and belly and right elbow and right thumb. Some were just scratches. My scalp got cut, and everybody thought I was dying: Oh, Christ, the old chief had the top of his head knocked off! I had 28, 29 holes in me that were bleeding, and I was walking around on one heel. I was barefooted on that coral dust. My left arm didn’t work. It was just a big ball hanging down.”

When the Japanese ended their attack, Finn received first aid—but immediately returned to the scene awaiting a potential follow-up attack. The next day, he checked into a hospital for his injuries.

In September 1942, John Finn received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony aboard the Enterprise at Pearl Harbor. He was recognized for his “magnificent courage in the face of almost certain death.”

Finn passed away in 2010 at the age of 100. He was the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor prior to his death—but his legacy lives on in one of the most incredible Pearl Harbor hero stories.

In 2015, the USS John Finn was launched. It is set to be commissioned in Pearl Harbor sometime in June 2017.

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Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers the best Hawai‘i flight adventure tours available. Immerse yourself in the details of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Soar above the important sites that played a part in the “Day of Infamy.” Relive history as you retrace the steps of the Army and Navy airmen in the days following the bombing. Furthermore, you can fly on some of the same routes the Japanese attackers used into the airfields at Wheeler, Kāne‘ohe and Bellows. Hawaii offers many air tours, but only one warbird airplane flight. Located in Honolulu, Pearl Harbor Warbirds provides a personal historical experience, which makes it one of the best O‘ahu attractions.

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