On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 32-year-old John Finn lay in bed with his wife, Alice, not far from the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station near Pearl Harbor, where he served as chief ordnance man. He saw a plane flash by his bedroom window, then another one. And then he heard machine guns, and knew something was very wrong. He jumped out of bed and hurried to dress.
“Those goddamn Japs. I should have hated ‘em. The bastards screwed up my nooky on a Sunday morning,” Finn told an interviewer years later.
Finn rushed to the air station, arriving as a squadron of Japanese Zeros were strafing the flight line. With no antiaircraft guns deployed at the base, sailors were forced to try to defend themselves and the station with machine guns on the runway.
“As he stood out on the runway firing his .30 caliber, Finn was peppered by pieces of shrapnel as the diving planes strafed the concrete runways with 20 m cannon.
“I actually counted. I got shot in the left arm and shot in the left foot, broke the bone. 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 didn’t even know. As far as I know, I never got hit by a single complete bullet but I had four or five things that were serious. I had twenty-eight, twenty-nine holes in me that were bleeding. 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.’
He also narrowly avoided a bomb blast.
‘There were several times I left that gun, when I couldn’t see a plane anywhere, I’d run back in my armory, kick somebody in the ass, fix the .caliber when it got jammed, and get back to the .30. I saw these planes coming, five bombers way up there, and I had a hundred-round belt go because I was absolutely walking the gun along with the plane. I was letting the gun cover, right ahead, leading the planes, and I was actually leading ‘em.’”
For his bravery that day, Finn received the Medal of Honor. The account above is taken from “Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words.”
Unlike many of the heroes of that day, and that war, Finn lived to tell his story, enjoying a long, full life. He died Thursday in San Diego at the age of 100.