Today is the 100th birthday of former Chief Petty Officer and retired Lieutenant John W. Finn. Still known affectionately to many as Chief Finn, he earned the first Medal of Honor of World War II for actions at Kaneohe Bay, Hawai’i, on 7 December 1941. He is the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.

According to homeofheroes.com, “Kaneohe Bay was attacked five minutes before Pearl Harbor, which some might argue makes John Finn’s actions that day the FIRST Medal of Honor action of World War II. John has never seen himself as a hero. ‘I was just a Good ‘ol Navy man doing my job,’ he says humbly.” 

Chief Finn was originally transferred to the Fleet Reserve as a Chief Petty Officer but was later “placed on the Retired List in the rank of Lieutenant.”

Those of us who have had the distinct pleasure of meeting Chief Finn, hearing him tell the story of the fateful day he displayed such unique valor, will never forget it. His account of the attacks on Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor, and his special way of telling it, are fantastic. It’s no wonder a man who fought so hard that day is a centenarian and the oldest living MOH recipient. He is a Navy and national treasure.

John Finn (Lucy Pemoni/AP file)

Chief Finn’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself:

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, KanoeheBay, on 7 December 1941, Lieutenant Finn promptly secured and manned a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machine-gun 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 United States Naval Service.

See this video from NBC News marking John’s 99th Birthday. To quote the report, “there are men alive today because John Finn was on duty that day.”

Happy Birthday Shipmate!




Posted by Fouled Anchor in Navy
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  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Happy Birthday indeed.

    The Old Line.

  • Byron

    Steel ships and Iron Men.

  • Perry Pena

    Chief Finn,
    It is an honor and privilege to send this Birthday wish. You are the epitome of a Chief Petty Officer. The year I was selected, was the same year the Chief’s were celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the CPO ranks. What an honor. Now to be able to celebrate this day with you surpasses every honor I can imagine. Thank you for serving our country with such great dedication and bravery. Here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday!

    Very Respectfully,
    Perry J. Pena ADC(AW/NAC) USN Ret.

  • JW

    I, along with Fouled Anchor and many, many other close shipmates, had the distinct please of meeting this fine young man when we invited him to NAS Millington to honor him as we dedicated our newly remodeled CPO Club in his name.

    We spent a week with him, which coincided with the last week of CPO Initiation that year. Many sea stories were told, toasts were made, and yes, even a few tears were shed. I’m a better person for having met Chief Finn.

    Happy birthday shipmate, and here’s to many more!

    JW
    CTMCM(SW) USN Ret.

    p.s. I received emails informing me that the Millington Chiefs are hosting a birthday celebrating this afternoon in the John Finn room…wish we could both be there!!!

  • LT Gary Kelch, USN (Ret)

    Chief Finn,

    A retired Lieutenant and once Chief myself I am honored to say Happy Birthday! to such a distinguished shipmate. My wish for many more.

  • AO3(AW) Wilson

    Happy Birthday Shipmate! Job well done and that will always be remembered. Have a fine Navy day and may God bless you as always.

  • NCCS(SS/SW/AW) Walter E.Y. Clark

    Chief Finn,

    You are an example and inspiration for all. Not just to Sailors, but to Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Guardsmen. Thank you for your service. You were prepared to give your life in defense of our nation and I am very proud of you. Happy Birthday Shipmate!!

  • sid

    We had a neighbor -Al Karnes- who was at Kaneohe that day. He spoke of seeing Chief Finn firing from the ramp, while he and some others were trying to put out a fire on a PBY….

  • sid

    Some Kaneohe Bay action shots during the raid…

  • AJN

    Happy Birthday, Chief Finn! Your actions and your example continue to inspire those who go in harm’s way. Thank you for your service to our great country.

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