Newly Commissioned Navy Ship Named for WWII MoH Recipient

Lt. John Finn Showed Extreme Bravery During Pearl Harbor Attacks

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Navy Lt. John Finn. Navy photo

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor. 

Since the Navy commissioned its newest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS John Finn, this past weekend in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, it’s fitting to highlight the courage and sacrifice of its namesake – Navy Lt. John Finn.

Finn enlisted in the Navy in his hometown of Los Angeles, California, in July 1926, just before his 17th birthday. He eventually worked his way up the ranks to chief petty officer.

During the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attacks that launched America into World War II, Finn was on shore duty at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. It’s currently a Marine base on the southeast side of Oahu, but at that time, it was a naval air station. And it didn’t escape the wrath of the Japanese.

The 32-year-old Finn was at home with his wife when he heard low-flying planes and gunfire. When he realized what was happening, Finn, a chief aviation ordnanceman, quickly booked it to the naval air station. He found a .50-caliber machine gun, mounted it where he could and began firing. He was in a completely exposed section of runway that was under fire, but he didn’t care. He wanted to defend his country.

This piece of art, called “The Warrior of Kaneohe,” depicts Lt. John Finn and another sailor battling the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941. Drawing by Jim Laurier

Finn returned fire at the enemy for more than two hours, suffering several bullet and shrapnel wounds in the process. But he kept manning the gun until he was ordered to leave his post to get medical attention. He got treatment and was in a good amount of pain, but he wasn’t ready to give up the fight. Finn went back to where his squad was and supervised the rearming of U.S. planes that were able to return to the station.

For his bravery and devotion to service, Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor by Navy Adm. Chester Nimitz on Sept. 14, 1942, onboard the USS Enterprise. He was the first recipient of the medal during World War II.

In June 1942, several months after the attacks, Finn was commissioned as an ensign. Within two years, he rose to the rank of lieutenant, a position he continued to serve in until 1956, when he retired.

Navy Lt. John William Finn shakes hands with a sailor as he arrives at a celebration for his 100th birthday in La Posta, California, June 28, 2009. Finn received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Navy photo by Antonio D. Ramos

By 2009, the 100-year-old Finn was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was also the oldest living recipient and the only aviation ordnanceman to have ever received the medal.

Finn didn’t make it to see his namesake be launched into the water this weekend, though. He died in May 2010, but his spirit will carry on in the sailors aboard the USS John Finn.

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