Wednesday, June 30, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Lt. John W. Finn won the Medal Of Honor for manning
a .50-caliber machine gun and helping repel a Japanese
attack at Kaneohe on Dec. 7, 1941.

Dec. 7 hero at
Kaneohe is honored

By Gregg K. Kakesako


NEARLY 60 years ago, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman John Finn became the first Medal of Honor recipient of World War II for his heroism in helping repel a Japanese attack at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station on Dec. 7, 1941.

Yesterday, Finn, 89, returned to Kaneohe to untie the maile lei at the opening of a $9.7 million, two-story Navy building named in his honor.

The new Navy facility is one of 12 construction projects undertaken during the past two years to support the relocation of the four P-3C Orion sub-hunter squadrons from Barbers Point Naval Air Station, which officially goes out of business tomorrow.

The building, which includes a P-3 aircraft training facility that also was relocated from Barbers Point, will be the headquarters of the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Patrol and Reconnaissance Forces.

In his introductory remarks, Adm. Archie Clemins, Pacific Fleet commander, said Finn is "a living bridge from our past to our present and into our future."

Refering to those who displayed wartime heroics, Clemins added that Finn "also is a symbol of the lasting legacy that all these men -- all of these heroes -- leave in our lives and in our Navy."

Finn, who later joined the ranks of "Mustang" officers and retired as a lieutenant in 1947, said he was "overcome by all this ... personally I did no more than my shipmates."

Finn recalled he was in his Kaneohe Bay quarters with his wife when Japanese fighters hit the base 10 minutes before attacking Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field on the other side of the Koolaus.

"I saw a plane pass by my window with red markings," Finn, then 32, recalled.

Looking over the Windward Oahu bay, Finn said said he thought the planes were flying in "a funny flight pattern" and that the machine guns didn't sound like the Navy's.

"They were firing too slow," said Finn, who is believed to be the last surviving Medal of Honor winner from the Japanese attack on the island that day.

He immediately got into his car and drove to Hanger 3 where his PB-Y Catalina squadron -- VP-14 -- was located, picking up a hitchhiker on the short ride.

Three Catalinas had been launched earlier that morning, but their patrol was west of the Oahu. "If they had flown north where the (Japanese) carriers were, they would have been shot down."

Sailors already were out with machine guns trying to knock down the Japanese fighters, he said. "The Zeros were flying a circular pattern coming from the north from Pyramid Rock."

Finn said at first he was too mad to be scared, since he had repeatedly asked that mounts be constructed on the ground for his squadron's machine guns. As it turned out, Finn had to use temporary instructional mounts.

He had changed guns several times when a Zero he thinks was piloted by Lt. Fusata Iida came barrelling down the gun sights of the .50-caliber machine gun he was manning.

"I fired three to 10 rounds right down his propellers," said Finn, who was wounded in his left arm and left foot at the time.

Finn said he watched as the plane, the last he fired on, went down on a hill just a quarter-mile from where the building that now bears his name was dedicated.

Eighteen sailors and one civilian were killed in the attack on Kaneohe. Iida is believed to be the highest-ranking Japanese officer killed.

Of the 36 planes stationed at Kaneohe that day, 26 were destroyed.

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