Weekly Column: There are heroes living amongst us

©Stephenie Freeman

I believe that everyone’s life is a story to be told. If you’re lucky, your story will be worth sharing with others. If you are blessed, your story will be one that others will love to share.

Take John W. Finn’s story for example. He has one of the greatest stories that I have heard in a long time and is a story that, over the holiday weekend, I got to witness a small part of.

Over the Fourth of July weekend my family had the opportunity to take a trip to Coronado Island, California. Not a big island, only 32 square miles, you can’t wave an American flag in Coronado without hitting a proud member of our country’s military. Coronado is home to a naval air station, a naval amphibious base, the US Navy SEALs, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot is just across the San Diego Bay.

To say that Coronado is a patriotic place to celebrate the Fourth of July would be an understatement.

Like all good Fourth of July parades, Coronado’s included all of the parade must-haves. There were high school bands and cheerleaders and Girl Scouts. There were ladies from the Garden Club, the Democratic Club, and the Shriners in their tiny cars. There was even a group called the Geriatric Surf Club. They marched down the street to “Catch a Wave” by the Beach Boys, dropping old surf boards to the pavement to hang ten.

Only in California.

But the best part of the whole parade, and my personal favorite, were the Pearl Harbor Survivors. These aging heroes sat perched in the backs of classic convertibles, waving to the cheering crowd and saluting their fellow members of the military.

John W. Finn was one of those survivors.

When he was only 17 years old, Finn decided to enlist in the Navy and after receiving permission from his mother and his basic naval training, was sent to Oahu in 1940.

When attacked started on the morning of December 7, 1941, Lieutenant Finn took his place behind a 50-caliber machine gun where, even though completely exposed, returned the enemy’s fire reportedly shooting down a Japanese aircraft single handily.

Although having multiple wounds and bleeding from head to toe (Finn counted 28 holes from shrapnel, had a broken foot and a left arm that didn’t seem to be working) Lieutenant Finn refused to leave his post. It wasn’t until he received specific orders did he finally seek first-aid, where shortly thereafter he returned to the squadron area to supervise the rearming of returning planes.

Lieutenant John W. Finn was the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II. Out of the fifteen Medals of Honor that were awarded for action on December 7th, Lieutenant Finn’s was the only one awarded for returning enemy fire.

As a part of the parade this year, Lieutenant Finn was participating in a reenlistment ceremony for a young, female naval officer from the USS Nimitz, extremely fitting seeing that Admiral Nimitz was the one who presented Finn with his Medal of Honor in 1942.

I watched as Finn was helped out of the back of his convertible which had stopped in front of the Admirals’ bleachers. Now 99 years old (he will turn 100 on July 23), he stood with the aid of a cane, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a baseball cap, and of course, his Medal of Honor.

Finn smiled at the officers assembled before him and simply asked, “Where’s the victim?”

Even though he had trouble remembering the entire oath and his voice wasn’t much louder than a whisper, everyone watching knew that we were witnessing, as trite as it may sound, something special. And after one last salute and best wishes given to the reenlisted sailor, the hero returned to his car and continued his journey.

There are heroes living amongst us and they all have amazing stories that must be told. They wear Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps and maybe the next time you sit on a curb to watch a parade you’ll be lucky enough to see one.

One Comment

  1. TetVet68

    Remember Pearl Harbor — Keep America Alert!

    America's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 100th year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, U. S. Navy (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, “The Day of Infamy”, Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

    (Now deceased) 'Navy Centenarian Sailor', 103 year old, former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Radioman (ACRM, Combat Aircrewman), later wartime commissioned Chief Warrant Officer Julio 'Jay' Ereneta, U. S. Navy (Ret.), is a thirty year career veteran of World War One and World War Two. He first flew aircrewman in August 1922; flew rearseat Radioman/Gunner (1920s/1930s) in the tactical air squadrons of the Navy's first aircraft carriers, USS LANGLEY (CV-1) and USS LEXINGTON (CV-2).

    Visit my photo album tribute to these veteran shipmates and other Pearl Harbor Survivors:


    San Diego, California

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.