Retired Navy Lt. John Finn - the first American to receive the nation's highest military award for defending sailors under a torrent of gunfire during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - died Thursday. He was 100.
Finn was the oldest of 97 Medal of Honor recipients from World War II still living. He died at a nursing home for veterans in Chula Vista, outside San Diego, according to a Navy statement.
Despite head wounds and other injuries, Finn, the chief of ordnance for an air squadron, continuously fired a .50-caliber machine gun from an exposed position as bullets and bombs pounded the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay in Oahu. He then supervised the rearming of returning American planes.
"Here they're paying you for doing your duty, and that's what I did," Finn told The Associated Press before his 100th birthday. "I never intended to be a hero. But on Dec. 7, by God, we're in a war."
I'd like to quote from his citation.
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, Kanoehe Bay, 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.
They don't make 'em like that any more. RIP.