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Interview with John William Finn [9/21/2004]

Carl Raymond Cox:

Hello, and welcome to Veteran's History Project. My name is Carl Cox and I am with the Voluntary Resource Management Service of the VA San Diego Healthcare System at the VA Medical Center in San Diego, California. I am a volunteer at that facility. I am the producer, and I will be the cameraman and your host conducting today's interview. Today's date is September the 21st, 2004, and we will be conducting today's interview at the home of today's guest. A distinguished veteran of World War II and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. Please welcome Mr. John Finn. Mr. Finn, please state your full name.

John William Finn:

My name is John William Finn.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your date of birth.

John William Finn:

I was born on July the 24th, 1909.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your current address.

John William Finn:

My current address is 17 miles east of where I live, but my address is Pine Valley, California, and it's Contract Route, or Star Route, Box 17, Pine Valley, California.

Carl Raymond Cox:

The State where you served in.

John William Finn:

The war, the only war I served in was World War II.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Which branch of the service did you serve in?

John William Finn:

The United States Navy.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me the highest rank you achieved.

John William Finn:

The highest rank I achieved was Lieutenant, United States Navy, temporary.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you recall your boot camp training experience?

John William Finn:

I recall a lot about my boot camp training. It was wonderful, all in all it was a wonderful training, but when you joined the Navy in those days you enlisted as an Apprentice Seaman, twenty-one dollars a month, ah... when I got out of the Recruiting Station in L.A. got me there and the boss gave us the final papers, I and two other men, Stanley of Van Nuys and Red Wedges from the Texas Street pick-up and I a school boy from Cpmpton and the same afternoon we got to the Recruiting Station, they put us on a train rattler that went to San Diego.

First time I had ever been on a steam train, and the farthest away I'd ever been from home and from my wife, was a trip to San Diego. That was I'd say 150 miles in those days the way the road ran. We got to Santa Ana, hit a car, killed a woman and a baby, and then went down to the Santa Fe Depot the same afternoon. We met at the Depot. This is a story by a Petty Officer from the Naval Training Station and in the meantime, I don't know where they come from but there were drafts appeared from Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and a couple of cowboys from North Dakota, and two or three woodchoppers from Oregon, and Washington, and a couple of kids from Northern California, and the three men draft from LA, Stanley Edgeman, Red Wedges, and John Finn.

And we were met at this old Santa Fe Depot by a Petty Officer from the Naval Station around there. All these guys, 'whose got the papers, whose got the papers, whose got the draft things,' called out and people, who was a senior-looking guy - there was two or three guys, they almost looked like grandpas. They had the papers for the draft that they represented. We'll say Kansas, Nebraska, where ever they come from. And then that man, I remember he was a Second Class Quartermaster, that I didn't have any idea about ratings.

When I got to the Naval Station, I saw the old Rating Board, he was wearing a Ship's Steering Wheel on his right arm, which made him a Quartermaster, Second Class, and he was a fine man. He didn't try to make us feel like dirty worms. He told us - 'alright fellows, don't wander off, we're going to get on a street car. I have the tickets.' He had somethings that took us from the Naval - from the Santa Fe Depot out to the Navy Boot Camp, which was located Naval Training Station, it was known then. Right on Loma Portal at the North end of Point Loma. That's where the Training Station was, the Training Station was three years old.

I thought it had been started WWI, but it was three years old, about three years old and we hit there the 29th of July, 1926 and right away there's a big indenture now started there, but that's when we hit the boot camp. But that Petty Officer in charge, we pulled up and got on the street car, went out past the Marina, Kettner Boulevard, past the Marine Base, out Barnett Avenue and stopped right in front of the Training Stations big iron gates. And it was not a lot of car traffic in those - 26.

And we were issued, he said, 'all right men' and we all got off that one street car. He said, 'stand right here.' That was outside the gate and he says something about - see ya a little later - and he disappeared in the Gate House and we never saw him again. After an hour and a half or so is wait out there. We weren't on the Naval Station, we was outside the gate. All in civilian clothes. I think it was a couple of guys even had a suit on. But I had slacks and a shirt, brand new. My mother made me put new underwear and everything, and some of the guys were not too sanitary. They'd been - look like some of them had ridden the rods somewhere and finally a Recruit Petty Officer came out of that gate and he immediately tried to make us feel like a bunch of worms.

'All right you birds, you know, fall in, two lines, two ranks, you know like corn.' So we fell in. He said, 'now when I say - right face - that means you take half turn to the right.' And he didn't tell us about forward march, but fell in two ranks, forward march, and away we went right through the gate. Finally we got on the Naval Air Station, probably past the Colors right there and he didn't have to salute the Colors and we went right up to what was the back end of the galley.

Then what we were doing was waiting for the regular Mess, Mess - evening Mess to get over with. And when we got there the Mess Hall was cleared and he marched us right into the galley and the finest ship's cook in the world. He was a wonderful man, Second Class Ship's Cook. Alone there he said, 'all right fellows, go over to that rack, get your tray and come back here and past these steam tables and take all you want to eat.' There was no recruit to dip out the stuff and put it on our tray.

And we went over there and it was - Oh - my God I never forgot that meal. I had thought that I was going to live on boiled rice and boiled potatoes and no salt on it for four years, and I honestly didn't know how and that was the one thing that worried me was what I was going to eat. There was going to be no salt on the rice and potatoes, I didn't like potatoes or rice, and I thought I was going to live on - I was that stupid and naive that I thought I was going to live on rice and potatoes, morning, noon, and night. And here - beautiful roast beef and there was a tomatoes and lettuce and tomato salad and there was I think, corn bread. And it could have been one of the nights when they served fresh milk. They didn't serve us fresh milk, it was kind of a treat. Fresh milk, and it was of course, not ice cold milk. In those days they didn't have all the refrigeration, and it could have been one of the nights they served corn on the cob and watermelon.

Anyway, I saw that food and boy, was I happy. I thought if this is the way the Navy feeds - I was so happy because while I never remember going hungry, but we certainly didn't have all that food in my home. And believe it or not, there was a couple of guys who navy slop they called it. I felt like killing them. Because it was a wonderful meal and that cook just made us feel so good. All the Petty Officers maybe tried to make the recruits feel like worms that's well known all that harassement that you get when you're first a recruit or anything, Army, Navy or Marine Corps, O.K.

Then some other guy come along, a Petty Officer of some kind, we all finished and told us when we get through feeding, and if you want anything more come back and get seconds. And some of those guys did. They were kind of hungry, but I was not that hungry. And it was a wonderful first meal and that made me love the Navy right there when I found that beautiful food and it was so much better than I had had at home.

We were more or less poor people. But anyway, now somebody now this is the first day, we said see the first five hours in the Navy. It was a big wait outside that gate and nobody... everybody said why don't they open the gate and let us get in there. They were, if I'd known, they nobody ever told me this thing was waiting evening, evening meal to get over. And all the recruits get the hell out of us contaminated civilians.

All right, here come another Petty Officer, marched us right down through the main unit and everything and out to what they called Camp Ingraham, which in those days consisted of pyramid tents with wooden floors and iron cots and we went right in there which was a segregated section of the, of that Camp Ingraham which was called - they put us in a detention unit. It was a fenced off corner down there and I think it had eight or nine of those tents to take care of any drafted men that come in there.

But we didn't have a great - I'd say maybe there was 40, 35-40 people there, from various States. Right then I got acquainted right there with kids, some of those boys. I knew them my total career. And anyway we went in that detention unit, and that was segregated from the rest of the detention unit. And the next morning we turned all they just use told us go in there and take a bunk. And put a mattress on it and we slept our first night in that thing and the next morning was the start of our really Naval career.

Here come a Chief Petty Officer, a couple of guys, and he was putting us down, you know. I got my second bawling out. I got my first bawling out at the Recruiting Depot up in L.A. Alright, they had the thing, they were urging you to donate your civilian clothing that you had on, and threw it in a great big bin, and that was suppose to go to charity. Well, I had on brand new clothes and I had a brother at home that could wear my clothes and I certainly, hell, didn't want to throw my brand new shirt and slacks and BVD's. That was in the days of BVD's. And I walked up there, 'oh', he said 'you guys are going to keep your clothes.' We'd have to go up there I'd just make out a check for where they, where they were going to be sent.

And I walked up there and went through the line, and he said 'well, throw your clothes in there,'I said, 'no'. I didnt' know what he, he was the Chief, but I didn't even know how to address him. I said 'I want to keep my clothes.' 'Oh, hell,' he says, 'what's your name?' I said my name is Finn. He says it should be fick. So, he put my name down and my good clothings was sent, I guess, parcel post. I think that you had to pay for the postage and a lot of those guys didn't have a penny on them.

They with, that was now and they threw us out in an old beat up jumper and a pair of pants and buttons were gone and everything and they were brand new, clean, washed, but they were uniforms that had been picked up all around and sent to that detention unit and so now, we're in a Navy whites, a jumper and pants.

I can remember they threw a pair of pants to me that you could have go around an elephant. And he said, 'oh, swap around and get with plenty of the guys.' So, some guys were changing. That was our first day.

And then, I'm sure about that time, can't remember that we were marched, I think, as a unit over to where a medical officer had come to the sick-bay, and he gave us another physical. Were very good thorough medical examination to make sure, so, I guess, I imagined every Recruiting Station had doctors there to exam you. I know I got a good examination in L.A. before I went and got on that train.

Anyway, we got our next thing, and it wasn't very long we were sent over to get our haircuts. They chopped all our hair off in regulation style. They didn't shave us or anything, they had, if you had any hairs up here, and then another physical examination, haircut, and I guess was very soon after we were there. Then the next day we, we got on to that detention unit and went right out to the rest of the Recruits in the detention unit and was assigned to, now were told we were going to be assigned to Company A-1 and the Commanding Chief was little, fine little Chief Boatswains Mate named A. A. Hudson. He was a wonderful man.

He was one Chief Boatswains Mate that didn't live on chewing all these men out. He was a very nice - always said, 'now men, gotta look alive, we gotta whole week now competing for four pennants.' One was for drilling, which came later. One was for the looks of our tent and our bedding. The other one was for drilling. And then there was another one, general excellence. And we had to compete from then on for those pennants. And if you got the pennants, it was put on your Company area. That little pennants up there. So, and it wasn't very long before they gave us another physical.

Man, they took us over to a supply department thing there that had brand new uniforms. And a sailor at that time was allowed one hundred dollars clothing allowance and I mean that did not buy your complete seabag. The most expensive thing you had to buy, twenty-one dollars for a Peacoat and a dollar and ninety-eight cent-and I don't remember what, but had to buy a flat-hat to put - to put through Navy ship's name on when you got some place. And long handled underwear you had to wear. Pretty soon we went across, pulled into Great Lakes, Illinois, the sixth of December, 1926.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And what was the name of that school that you were going to attend there?

John William Finn:

Aviation General Utility School, AGUS, at Great Lakes, Illinois.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And how long were you at that school?

John William Finn:

At that school, I got here, we got there on the 6th of December, and went on, alright we got there right at the Christmas holidays and there was a delay in forming us into a class. And it - see there were other men from other Training Stations got there and I think we had about 40 men in the class, to go to that thing, because I remember they finally said there are so many of you in one draft for San Diego that they decided to put that whole draft in one of the classes and it was, oh, a few guys from Boston, New England States.

But when we formed the class up and if I remember right, we were going good in that class when Christmas come along, because I was able to get ten days leave before the class was formed and go down and visit my old grandmother and my aunt in St. Louis, Missouri. I spent those big recruit going down there. Then the class was finally formed and it was a wonderful school.

I made light of it, I thought, ah, what the hell they teach us. One day I said, 'Finn, what did you know about a aircraft before you went to that school?' You know they had an engine, the engine made a lot of noise, you knew it had some wings and some wheels, but what else did you know. You didn't know what made the plane to fly. And that's one of the things they taught us, one of the first things, was the theory of flight. What made an airplane able to fly. A bunch of mechanical crap. And it was a wonderful school.

They taught us all about making, we spent a lot of time making wire splices in little seven strands, seven strand cables. Had the Navy splice, the Robling splice. They taught us mainly how to make splices, because in those days the mechanics and the riggers, they had to make all those control wires, had to make them up themself. And those control wires were not, wires were not hap-hazzard. They had a wonderful l-splice. They never splice the length of them, they just got a piece that was long enough to run a splice on this end - and a splice on that end and it went through say from the horn - stuck out of the rudder - up through shives and brackets in the plane up to where the pilot could pull the levers and, and push rudders. They had rudders and ailerons and elevators. That's the first thing you learned.

And we actually had some old planes, they were called NY 1's, the first model of that old plane. Big, old heavy biplanes, but a lot of wingspread, and big tails. And they, but they were powered by a V-8 hispanos engine or a Wright engine four cylinder Wright engine, I mean 8 cylinder, but they were water-cooled engines. Then after a few years or sometime they were developing the Radial engines. And we learned a little bit about the Radial engines.

But when we left there, we were knowledgeable guys about airplanes, just in general. Oh, I didn't, I didn't get to learn how to fly a plane, that was the last thing. They didn't even talk about, all they'd tell you if you were going to be a pilot, that came later. You had to put in a request and pass a tough mental and physical examination to get ordered down to Pensacola, Florida, where they taught you how to fly airplanes, Marine Corps and Navy.

But at Great Lakes, we graduated, I think in April, 1927 and came right back to North Island. And I told you about that. All of '27, '28, and '29, I was based at North Island. Part of the time, right at the mast they were going to make an aviation greater or Machinest Mate out of me.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So, what was your job assignment at North Island Naval Air Station?

John William Finn:

My job assignment, I went right in to the task of getting into it. I went right in to the A and R Shops where you built airplanes. And all I wanted to do is get over that Orders Department where I could have guns, machine guns and all that stuff. And it took me, I think three or maybe four months to get out of that A and R Shop, because it turned out that I and my buddy would work together, Harry Roberts from Missoula, Montana and right off the bat they made rib stitchters out of it, and that was a job that took steel, and it took finese.

Mainly covering the wings with fabric and it also covered rudders, ailerons, and elevators, and stabilizers with fabric. And he covered them there and it was, we had two guys that could really run sewing machines, and they were experts. That they were the kingpins, I think they were Second Class Petty Officers that run the sewing machines to sew this fabric. Finally they got the idea - they use to wrap it around the wing, pieces lapped. Finally they got the idea of making it just like a big pillow case. Start down at the outer end of the wing and pull that - it was snug - it had to be a snug fit. Un-doped alright now we're pulling that thing just pull it on, make it smooth as we could and pull it snug and tight. Every - I think 11 or 12 inches there was a rib that's formed. Gee, they had the long __________ and the spars. They were big pieces of the finest grade white American wood you could get. It was Ash and Spruce and things like that.

And the ribs were made up out of laminated _____, very thin laminated plywood, even in those days, and they were formed to give the wing the curvature. The curvature gives you all those names they taught us about. They have a concave bottom and a rounded top. And that was - explained all this stuff about air-foils. They already learned there were certain shapes that offered less air resistance and they were strong as hell.

But anyway, Harry Roberts and I, they just, the Chief just assigned us - you're the rib stitchers. Once they pulled that thing, the fabric, like a pillow slip, pulled it out of that end, it was solid and over here where it folded over, there was wood, and you could tack that to it and then when it was doped, that was the part of the wing that bolted on to fuselage or the plane structure, which, wherever it was.

And they put Harry Roberts and I doing that and that old Chief said, 'you're the best.' He told us, praised us, you're the best rib stitchers I've ever had, 'cause we did do real neat work, and it was skill. 'Cause when, the way it was setting in the, in the dock, real big wings, maybe ten, twelve, fifteen feet long and it's basically four feet from the entering edge to the trailing edge, and one guy sitting on a little scooter stool on the other side and the other guy's here, have a big long needle, that long, and it's loaded with this beautiful flax thread that was soaked in bee's wax. That's another thing we had to do was put that big spool, this flax thread, oh, it was strong and fine-made.

We had to put that in melted bee's wax. And we did that right in the shop, it was very soon, we begin to get the damn thread. It was all covered with bee's wax and the roll, you know how they cone-shape things that you see and that was the rib stitching thread. We put it in that big needle. The guy over here, it's easy. You can see 3/8th inches down, you put that, you can see, put that needle right against the rib, and stuck it right straight through. But now, on the other side, this is where the skill come in. You had to judge, and once and awhile the guy missed in a little or up or down a little, to make that needle come out right along side that rib on the other side of the wing.

You couldn't see through the wing, see. And then, that guy then he pulled this big long thread through there and made it taut. Passed the needle back to the other guy, and the guy on the other side, on the underside of the wing, he had to then make special hitch around that thing. That was what rib stitching was. And you did that from one side of the wing to the other. And it did take skill.

So when it come time for me to get out of there, that Chief said, 'no, sir.' He did not want to get rid of Harry Roberts and I. And he was, we was his prize rib stitchers. But I did that for all, all and in the meantime they took me out and put me on mess cooking. That happened to all sailors where you went over and worked in the mess hall. And that is one time you got five dollars extra a month for being a mess cook, and some guys loved it, they wanted to stay there, but I wanted to get in Ordinance.

Carl Raymond Cox:

So, what was your next duty assignment?

John William Finn:

My next duty assignment was into the Ordinance Department at the Naval Air Station at North Island. And the Armory, the place that you could see was on the ground floor, the south-end of the Administration Building. It's still over there. And right across the street was a little square fire house, where they kept the fire engine. And I finally got there.

When they, I went to the Yeoman, I said, and he was a nice Petty Officer. All the Yeoman, pretty near every one of them, was an Aviation Machinist Mate, but they couldn't change a spark plug, but they could really pound typewriters. They were excellent typists. And this guy was a nice Petty Officer named a Nitchey.

And I said, 'Nitchey, I, I haven't been, oh, they promised me that if they come a vacancy in Ordinance, they'd consider me, but that Chief did not want to lose his chief, one of his finest said, 'you're the best rib stitcher I've ever.' He didn't have to correct our work. We, Harry and I, could, we could talk to each other, but one is on one side of the wing when the other, I mean that rib stitching was done beautifully.

And then it had to be taped on top of the rib stitching. That was part of the doping. But anyway, I said to Nichey one day, I went in the office, I had to come out of the wing shop down there and I said, 'Nichey, I still have never been, never been able to hear anything about getting transferred to the Gunnery Department or Ordinance Department.' I said, 'what am I going to do, I want to get over to the Ordinance.' I wanted guns.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And this is why you were at North Island?

John William Finn:

North Island, I was right there working on ____ shop.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you at North Island?

John William Finn:

I was at North Island from early 1927 to late in 19, early in '30. But I in the meantime I was transfered to the U.S.S. Lexington in September.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And what was your job assignment aboard the U.S.S. Lexington?

John William Finn:

The Lexington, I was just in the squadron and my assignment was deck work on the top side of the U.S.S. Lexington. First I was a wing folder. They made me a wing folder in VP-14, but in the meantime, I had to get in ordinance. That was, that was one of the things, that ordinance thing was, took quite a bit of going. I first got over there and I was just a kind of a sweep down the armory. And I finally got to know _____tough old Gunner's Mates.

Then I went down, assigned to the 3 inch 50 caliber anti-aircraft battery, on the south end of North Island. And nobody even knew there was twenty-3 inch 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns. And an old shipmate of mine Schnazola Durante Peterson and I were transfered down to that and we had fine old Chief Gunner's, Chief Quartermaster Torpedoman. I'll get it right. He was a Chief Torpedoman and he was in charge of that whole twenty guns down there.

And there was only three of us assigned. We'd do it down there and work. We'd go down there and he said, 'alright, take the guns, covers, the gun covers were always - and the guns were just slashed down in the big old dirty nasty thick brown grease called paralcatone. And that was our shop down there. He took care of those guns making sure they didn't rust 'cause all that stuff would rust like hell right down on the water front at the south end of North Island.

You'd look out there, right down there at the Coronados, she'd look to the left you could see the south end of Pt. Loma, where it ended in the Pacific Ocean.

But, now, to get to the Lexington. In September, I think it was the 15th, 1929. I was ordered from the Naval Air Station, now this is a transfer, it wasn't just a Division transfer, which happened like what you say one Division first to the Seventh Division, right nearAir Station. If you go transfer to about all you did was change Barracks. Each division had a Barracks, and this case here now I am ordered to sea duty. And I had damn near my first enlistment was up in the Navy, ail shore duty, land duty, and I got transferred to the U.S.S. Lexington. Now, big deal, I changed Barracks, went from Naval Air Station to Fleet Air Barracks, which was the aircraft carrier, Langley, and Lexington.

And, also, when I later on when it became U.S.S. Lexington. Langley, Lexington and Saratoga. Our first two huge aircraft carriers. Alright when I got down there to the Lexington and finally the Fleet was ordered to go on Fleet maneuvers early in 1930. September, November, December, I just was in a different Barracks at North island. Now, we actually took the wings off our planes, put them on barges. A tugboat took the barges out, tied up along side the Lexington, way down by the Coronado Islands, they were way down there, you could just see the outline from North Island. On a foggy days you couldn't see them.

Anyway, then they hoisted the planes, oh, this squadron I was with called PT-1. Torpedo Plane Squadron One and we got those planes and took them down there, hoisted them aboard, now, we were, now had to put the wings back on them. The Torpedo Planes the wings could come off and that, that was a great thing. Because all you had to do was pull four great big pins, that long, and almost an inch in diameter at the hinge point of those things. Pull those pins out and you had a big tool. Had a big, it was a pin puller.

You put the tool on there, put about a three eights inch bolt, then you started this heavy weight. Boom, the top. That weight could hit the top of the thing and you could actually ooze that pin out of its, it's just like pulling the hinge of a door, only the big pin was that long and it actually held the weights on those T, T4M planes we had. They just got rid of TSM's.

Alright, and these were radio-engine planes. The latest most powerful radio-engine - alright, now, they didn't fly those planes out there. They hauled them out on barges, the theory was that those pilots didn't have enough practice landing on a carrier. Alright, now, they put the wings back on them. We got up there and that was part of my job, too, jump up on that wing on my, thing was up on the top wing, see, and the top wing, and the guys down here could walk along as the planes, the planes were a lot of times being moved. Alright, we had to put the wings back on there. That meant drive those four-two pins on the bottom, two pins up there. And the guy out on top, he had to hold on with the skin of his teeth and he had to remove a section, a removable section, of the top wing that allowed that thing, that wing, be pulled of front pins and then the wing could pivot on the two back - it was just like a hinge. And that wing went right back and was secured against the big old fuselage and tail fin. Alright, now when we got that done, you says, what, alright, I became one of those guys, a flunkie on the deck.

We went around to the rope, all around the deck on those carriers was flash with the deck, a big brass fitting that had a tongue stuck out and you could take the wing, the wing ropes we called them, lashing wing lashings, they came from the, from the end of the wing where there was hand-hold down around there and you could tie that plane down. It had to be tied down once it was on the flight deck. That was our job, cleaning those hand-holds out and rain water. There was no drain in them. You had to sop the water out and wring in the bucket. That was my job for quite awhile, just deck ape up there.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Mr. Finn, what was your next duty assignment after the U.S.S. Lexington?

John William Finn:

O.K., I got my orders off of the Lexington and I put in to put the U.S.S. Houston, heavy cruiser Houston (C8-30) into commission. I was ordered to the U.S.S. Houston and she went into commission over at the Charleston Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. First thing we did - go on a shake-down cruise to Europe.

Visited England, Holland, France. Then she was destined to become the Flag Ship of the Asiatic Station and in due time we got under where there was lots of time had passed and a lot of things had happened. We went to Panama, through the Canal, and took off right from the Canal directly to Honolulu, which was a long spell, big thing. Alright, we got to Honolulu. We had, over there, Temporarily did sorne duty around Pearl Harbor, got underway from Guam, and left the Hawaiian Islands with half the stuff from Ford Island in our hold and went to Guam.

From Guam, we went right on out to the China Station, Hong Kong, Amoy, Shanghai, and then we spent, I spent a lot of time on out on the Asiatic Station, and ended up on the big coal cutter, Jason. Came back to the States, was transfered to the United States Ship Saratoga, VF-6 Squadron. Was in there a few months, was transfered then to the light cruiser ship, Cincinnati, and did time on the West Coast.

Then, Cincinnati went down and I was transfered away. Went to the Naval Air Station at Coca Solo, went three years down there, back to the States and went up to Seattle, Washington, up to Alaska and now back down to San Diego. Got brand new PBY planes. Had a terrible tragedy. There were nine of my shipmates burned Up on the mountain. Now were on our way to Kaneohe Bay. We were with one of the squadrons that was to go out there and put the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay in to commission as a big sea pen base. Now comes up, here come the Japs on December the 7th, 1941 and we were there.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me what happened on December the 7th, 1941.

John William Finn:

On December the 7th, first thing what I had ...

Carl Raymond Cox:

And where were you at?

John William Finn:

Now, O.K., now all this transformed - these things that happened I had now, my wife and I in the meantime I got during this interim period from 1930 up to '41, I was married, now, a pretty old time guy. We had, my wife and I had quarters, nice quarters right on the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, and it was about one mile from our quarters down to the hanger area where the big PBY's. We had beautiful big PBY-5's like that model right there. All three squadrons, PBY-11, 12, and 14. Each one of us had 12 of those planes. Fine, big planes.

Alright, on December the 7th morning I didn't have the duty, but my squadron, PBY-14, had the anti-sub patrol, which meant that you launch three PBY's at first light to go on assigned sub patrol, where ever they were assigned. Now, my squadron had launched those planes. Now, it's now a few minutes before Pearl Harbor was hit, I heard planes flying. And during the years I'd pick, just general knowledge, these planes were not following the flight pattern. I thought who is flying that? And, oh, these were single engine planes. PBY's are two engine, and who is firing machine guns? I heard machine guns firing.

And I went to the Chief Ordinanceman, if anybody fired machine guns on the base, officially, I would have known about it, because that stuff goes from one squadron to the other. And about that time, now this is where it started. I heard a rapid firing on my front door, I mean, a rapid knocking. It sounded like a female. And I was in bed and I jerked on my dungaree pants, got decent, went down to open my door, and there is where I heard the first alert.

I saw Lou Sullivan, the wife of one of my ordinancemen, that were in my ordinance gang. I had a 35-man gang. And she, I said, 'what's up, Lou?' She said, 'they want you down at the hanger right away,' and turned and run like a deer. I grabbed my shirt, put on my shoes, went right out to my car. It was parked a few yards from my back door. Started the car up, and started to the hanger.

In the meantime, Eddie, her husband came out and got right in the front seat of my car. I drove out there, now the speed limit on the base was 20 miles an hour. I had to observe the thing. I got half way around Hawaii Loa Hiil, which is Tansis Tower today, nothing but thousands, millions of dollars worth of, what do you call it, the, can't think of the name. Information gathering, don't knowing what the course were was a big - can't thing of the - anyway, I got half way around that hill, I heard a horrible roaring. This is where I found out the first knowledge to me that it was the Japs.

A Jap plane had come from the stern. I heard it coming with wide open gun, I guess it was a Zero, and he got right abreast of me. I looked out of my car window. And remember, I 'm doing 20 miles an hour to keep in obeyance with the Station's speed limit. I looked out there and this plane made a wingover and I looked up and saw two great big old dirty red balls, and I said to Sullivan, 'this is the real McCoy.' It's the Japs.

I stomped on the throttle, went right down to my hanger, jumped out of my car, run 150 yards to where my armory was located. When I got there, this is where the battle started for me. Right in front of my armory door. Inside the hanger was about five bomb-handling trucks and each one of those bomb-handling trucks had two 500 pound TNT loaded depth charges. And instantly I knew, they had to get out of that hanger. If the hanger caught on fire, and I didn't know how sensitive the fuse may be if one of the strafing Japs they were there. I knew that without even seeing them.

And the first thing I thought is get those damn depth charges out of that hanger, but I immediately run through my armory and outer door and I heard machine guns going out there. Right on the right hand side was one of my boys maning the 50 caliber gun. Right on the other side was R.J. Peterson, he was maning a 30 caliber gun. And I told him, 'move your gun out Pete your going to shoot the top of Bucky's head. We can't Chief, we'd be shooting at him. About that time I looked out over the bay, here come a Zero, I guess it was a Zero, and strafed right along the side of the hanger. The guns were near the hanger. And I saw, I saw some bullets hitting in the dirt and I grabbed the 30 caliber gun and drug it out into the middle of that open parking area so I could see in ail directions. The gun was too close to the hanger. You can't see through a hanger. I drug it out there, will say, 20 some yards. Now I could see over the hanger and I could see to the North out over the bay and see to the south. And the Japanese were there in force, how many planes I don't know, but they were now strafing the hanger and they were strafing the apart, PBY planes. That's what they were doing.

But first, we had planes moored with crews on them to take off at a moment's notice. All they had to do was get the pilot's there. Those planes were moored in the bay. That's the first ones that the Japs set on fire, those that were in the bay. And they were now burning and while I couldn't see all of it, but all of our planes, the Japs strafed them, and they had incendiary bullets. Those are what they called 11 point, ah 7 point 7 machine guns, 30 caliber machine guns exact copies and same cartridge that Great Britain used, the old 3-0-3 British cartridge and they were Strafing the ramp up and down.

Now I immediately got that gun, I took it away from this guy, Peterson, you might say. He was a Second Class Radioman. I'm going to - just grab that gun, and I picked it up bodily, carried it out there and then right off the bat, the gun was already loaded. So all I did start right then, shooting at Jap planes that were strafing our hanger area and that thing. And I shot at both planes and so that strafer can remain strafing for a few seconds.

By the same token, you could only keep bearing on him for a few seconds and he's gone. So, I started firing at those Japanese strafers. And everybody, how many? did you hit them? I said I cannot say I hit anything, I only shot at every damn thing that I could bear on, and I was not a slouch with a machine gun. So I must have hit some of them. Because at the end of the day, Kaneohe Bay was credited with shooting down three Japanese planes. But I never saw one of them go down.

And I was kicking myself in the fanny. My, God, almightly, can't you bring one of those planes down. That was running through my head, and all I can say is I shot at everyone I could bear on for two and half hours. Now, two and half hours was the length of the attack at Kaneohe Bay and it was about the same way over at Pearl Harbor.

And just a few minutes after they hit Kaneohe Bay, it's known they hit Kaneohe Bay first, and then it was Bellows Field was down the road about four miles down the way, they strafed that - everything. I never ever remember seeing a single U.S. plane in the air except our PBY's that came back late that afternoon. The three we put out on patrol survived that attack. One of the them came back filled full of holes, I think it had 80 holes in it, but nothing was critical. There's lots of space on a PBY.

Now, during that attack then, of course, in my case, I was right out there in the open and that's what my citation says, in an unprotected parking area. And the Japs as they came down there eventually the shrapnel began to hit me and at the end of the day I had been out there at everytime that I was aware of a - see - when the strafers come you could hear the damn planes out there. Maybe, in the meantime, I run back in my armory and fix the machine gun and kick some bodies in the butt, and the main thing was to get those depth charges out of that hanger. I was scared to death if that hanger got on, see the other hanger was now burning, and our hanger. They said it caught on, I never saw any fire at all in our hanger, it was north, Number One hanger, Number Two hanger, Number Three hanger, and they were quite a distance apart. You could park any number of PBVs between each of those hangers. And they were parked there.

And, also, when they were changing an engine or something like that, they would generally wheel that plane that they were working on into the hanger and that got it out of the wind and the dust and everything. And you had to have great high stands on wheels, that you had to push up to the edge of the PBY to work on the engine. Anything it took a lot of equipment and it was all on castors and anyway, they now started the Jap, I didn't see this myself, but they come down and strafed and hit their bullets right in, and shoot right through the hanger. The doors were wide open and it all takes all the men in the squadron or a tractor to open and close those doors. Now, in the meantime, the man that I told to take the depth charges out of the hanger, he went off to try to find a, the truck to tow those bombs, and you could hook each bomb to the, they had a regular truck there. You could hook 'em to, you see, at great big airports, you see here a tractor with whole great string of things. That's the way these bomb handling trucks were. You could hook one to the other and another, and there was four or five of those bomb handling trucks parked right in this, just right outside the door of my Armory.

And at that time, the Armory was the only shop on the bayside, the other side of the hanger, called it the landside, it had the offices, and the head, and the metal shop, and the carpenter shop, and other shops, and that was all on the other side. My Armory where they kept ail the machine guns and where my men went, the guys that worked for me.Ordinancemen. They, that was there headquarters, the Armory. And, so, at the end of that battle, I had been hit many times with shrapnel, and my left arm wouldn't work anymore, and my left foot had been shot and I had to walk around on my heel. And I finally about that time the battle is now over. And I looked all over to _____, I knew those Japs were flying around there and I finally saw one way - it must have been five miles - a little black speck up to the north. And it's right by a place called Chinaman's Hat, which is a little, little tiny island, it was not anything. It was right there, and I thought, a seagull. I said, you damn fool you can't see a seagull, it's five mile away, and I watched that plane and it was not a seagull. And it was the last plane that I saw. I watched him come and I got right on him, started it, started to shoot at him, and he was flying way down below the level of the Koolau Range at treetop or housetop level. Just coming like hell, streaking up that, and it was - it didn't take him long to get through that Chinaman's Hat up there. But it gave a little time, I started to shoot at him, I said, you damn fool he's four or five miles away, save your ammunition.

And about that time these planes that were on fire on the bay, they smoked black heavy smoke coming out of those planes. They burnt right to the water-line. But it smoked, didn't tower, it Was just blowing off in a gentle breeze to the north. That Jap plane disappeared behind that smoke. And I thought, he's coming out and I don't care how far it is, when he comes out to the southend of that smoke, I'm going to let him have it.

I was going to, I told my men, give him some elevation and so lead and start firing at him, and I had no idea how much ammunition was left in that 50 caliber mount. And I think it held a chock-full about 65 rounds. I was going to let him have that, try to hit him. I figured give him some lead, give him some elevation, 'cause he'd be out there, maybe a mile, off the beach. And I'd just made it all tense right at that black smoke. Now, I only had one arm, I couldn't charge the machine gun, my left arm wouldn't work, and this left foot is O.K.

About that time, he ain't coming out, Finn, he's coming now, and I whirled that gun like that, instantly, he boiled out of that smoke, had a great ring of black smoke around his propeller that he had picked up. Right down the barrel of that machine gun, I didn't have the, I instantly started firing at him. Now, according to how far it was when he come out of that smoke, which I do not know, and the speed of his plane, covering that intervening distance, I always figured that I couldn't have got more than six to eight rounds out and I'm sure that I got, at least, four rounds right down his propeller. And he came boiling overhead. He was so close to me, over me, that the air pressure of that plane just forced me - just threw - the leg was no good. I was standing on one leg hanging onto the gun and forced me right down to the ground on my knees. I came right up, 'cause I had powerful legs, came right up, strong, and tried to get on him as he flew over my head.

And according to Commander Fuchida, he'd been told this was Sinshi Haba , now, I mean Fusata Lida that was his name. He was a fine young well-liked Japanese pilot on one of the carriers. And 50 years later I got to talk to his commanding officer was Lieutenant Commander Fuchida, who had come over with the first wave and dropped his bombs and he then he just flew around for the rest of that attack.

Looking at what his pilots had done to, over, mainly Pearl Harbor, but he came over Kaneohe Bay and he, himself, admitted they got a different perception at Kaneohe Bay. Because there were quite few guys, everybody says I was the only, and Finn was the only guy that even fired a gun. That's a damn big lie. There was quite a few guys at Kaneohe Bay managed to get a machine gun and fire at the Jap attacking planes. But, but only one that got shot down was this Lieutenant Lida, and he got shot down, he landed in an open swell and, now I, the days would so much handling there, I was so busy all the rest of that December the 7th, all night long and until noon the next day, when I finally went to Sick Bay to get shrapnel out of me.

And the doctor told - alright - right at that time this, we had a Lieutenant that was standing kind of dingy. His name was George Hupp, but everyone called him Punchy Hupp. He come, where he come from I don't know, I didn't see a damned officer except the Officer of the Day, who had the duty down there. A big Cadet Ensign. Ensign Thorough and he was the Duty Officer down there. It was his duty to do all this damn stuff that was down around there and he did a wonderful job. And a short time, a month before that attack, I had asked him if I could have a word, we went for, I said, 'sir, I've been thinking it would be a good idea.' This is one thing that I did. And I remembered.

That we would have some metalsmiths welded us some gun mounts and you officers can figure out where they going - I had an idea that got a lot of people killed. I wanted to put one of those on each roof of our hanger. A huge big hanger, you know. Quite a number of yards between this gun here, this gun there. My idea was to put one gun now, up on top of that hanger and then put the other ones wherever officers.

Alright, come the December the 7th , we had no gun mounts to put, see there was four machine guns in each PBY, two 50 calibers and two 30. My idea was to have some gun mounts made up and put in gun pits of wherever they -1 said you officers certainly would figure out where we are going to put these gun mounts and have crews assigned to them. But come the 7th, we had two gun mounts. One of them was designed to shoot a gun mount from - and the one I used was just to get men around the machine gun and teach them how to load and unload it, and apply immediate action, keep the gun a-going with dummy ammunition. That's the gun I was shooting.

It was never ever designed to shoot a machine gun did, but I fired thousands of rounds from that thing, and then finally as the battle got on, I finally got up to where this 50 caliber gun had been moved right from my Armory door up to where the front of the hanger. And in the meantime, the damn hanger doors had got closed before this guy, Eddie Sullivan, got those depth charges out of the hanger. They closed the door, then he had to go find a tractor to open hanger doors to get those depth charges out of there. They were 500 pound depth charge, and two of them in each thing, and there ain't no way to get enough sailors around the damn - oh, it can be done, but it takes a lot of, I mean talk, pick up and carry out - 500 pound bomb or depth charger away. And he finally, in the meantime, I went in there and saw those damn depth charges still on that thing, and I was going to kill this guy.

I said, 'where's that God damn Eddie Sullivan?' So, people said, 'don't know Chief, he was here a little while ago.' I thought, I couldn't believe that he was a coward and - I thought he'd run off and wasn't going to carry out my orders to get those things, 'cause I remember he said, 'where shall I take them, Chief?' I said, 'for Christ's sake, take them out and put them in the Algerobe bushes. That's the brush that grows over - and I said, 'whatever you do, don't put them in one place, scatter them out. Put a distance between them.' And he did that.

But I didn't know it. I came back in there and the damn things were still setting there in that hanger. And that the hanger got on fire, and believe me those Japanese had incendiary bullets. I am a Chief Ordanceman, I knew there was such a thing. I'd never seen a standard 30-0-6 or 50 caliber incendiary bullett. That had them by the millions, just a few, I'm sure they had them Depots. We didn't use them, we had armor piercing tracer and ball ammunition. That's how our guns were loaded on December the 7th.

We did that and very thing moved just as it - they just, anything that damn incendiary bullet, you know they'll burn under water and set it all on fire. And that's what killed us at Kaneohe Bay. And they took our ability to fight and all, destroyed all our planes and many of those planes still had the guns and ammunition in them. They were all loaded with ammunition, all the guns were in place, but all of these mix of people around them. Once those airplanes, before they caught on fire and got the guns out of them. That's, we had all kinds of guns to shoot at the Japs with, but no gun mounts to put on. The mounts were in the planes, and it's just had the planes all got on fire. So even if they could of got it it's very very awkward to try to shoot a machine gun out of an airplane, like a PBY, and do any, you can't train the son-of-a-bitch, you know, and so, by the end of that morning, about 10:30, the last Jap left there, except that one I told you come right, through right down there and that's the last Jap plane I saw and it's the last one I fired at.

And if I didn't hit him, I don't know how he was at such close range, why he just come right down the barrel of that machine gun and I got out from, say, four to maybe eight rounds right frontal thing into his propeller, in the front of his engines. Now, the Jap plane had a double roll copy of a Pratt and Whitney engine. It's a lot of engine there that your bullets if you hit right into the plane and that's all you could aim at, was the central part right there where the propeller was. And the only other time, here come some bombers.

This was during this battle, and they must have been up at four or five thousand feet. I saw them. And I fired a whole hundred-round belt at them and the only planes that I know I hit, my, they were such altitude. That was only a 30 caliber gun and the 30 caliber 0-6 has got tremendous power and can shoot right through a propeller. But at that at -1 mean at close range, like a synchronized gun. Alright, I know that some of my tracers I could see them going up there, that's where I gave the planes lead, and I actually had some of the tracers in that belt. I had a hundred-round belt I sunk at those bombers.

And we were, I thought that there were nine of them, but my ___ship said, 'you're Crazy, Chief, there were five planes in that flight.' And sure enough when I counted the bomb craters, they released their bombs right there on to the area right around VP-14 hanger, and, oh, I saw the bombs coming. And I had enough sense to tell my - I said, 'get the Hell out of here, those bombs got this address.' I never had any experince with seeing bombs coming at me. Little tiny, looked like mag - rice turds when they left the plane.

And I, oh, I started in on my machine gun. I fired a whole belt full of ammunition, and those that I saw some of them hit into the propeller, and the propeller would sit and letting them go through it. Some, two or three of my tracers and see, it was a tracer every third round in a hundred-round belt, so I figured, I think four or five of the tracers in the hundred-round belt hit the propeller and was swung off in an arc. Just like a match head. I saw, I think, three or four of that hundred-round bullets, and you got to remember between each tracer, there was two other cartridges, and those tracers, I can still remember, by God, and I hit him. And the tracer's bullet was thrown off in an arc to the right, to the rotation of the propeller. And then I saw those black bombs coming and then I said, 'bull-shit, they're hitting this area. What's if they miss you a little over or little under, right or left, and I choked and run into the hanger and ducked down be - the wall was about two and half feet at the ground, come up about four and half, then that big huge heavy corrugated material, the hangers are made out of it, and it's partly - it's fibrous, looks like a lot of asbestos that mixed with cement. It's actually cement asbestos maker, and that big corrugated sheets way went way up to the top of this hanger.

The hangers , oh, hell, it must be best part of 40 feet high, because you could easily push a huge patrol plane in there. Alright, that, run into that, it was actually comical. I run into this open door that led into a stairwell right along side the door that led into my Armory. I could have ducked in there, but I jumped in the stairwell, soon I had to throw my arms over my head, and I just dived. By now I hadn't been shot too bad, I could still use my left foot, and I dived into the corner under the stairwell like that. And three great big rolling booms, just felt like the ground was like a carpet blowing in the wind, and I jumped right up and started to run. I said, 'hold it, you fool, there might be some delayed fuse.'

Naturally, I knew about delayed fuses and stuff. And I hunkered down, oh, for a fraction of a second or two, and then I went in and run out to that thing and one of those bams, bombs, had almost made a direct hit on the gun I was firing. Had a big crater there about ten, twelve feet in diameter. All that crater was covered up bne of the legs of the gun mount I was happening to fire. That one little mount had a tiny base on it and it jumped all over when you shoot. One of those and all the ammo, in the meantime, kids had started bringing me belts of ammunition.

I guess there were dozens of them. The way I'd known it they all had ammunition was covered with cement, sand, and rubble that came up. Rerods sticking up out of there. One of those bombs decided not run off there, I'd have been just blown into jelly by that high explosive bombs. That was one thing, I thought, gee whiz, you're lucky you can run fast. 'Cause I beat those guns, I beat those guns. I watched them for a little while, and pretty soon they weren't, I mean, I just glanced at them, I didn't have time to watch at them. I saw them coming there and I got into that, ducked into behind that big stone wall and all I felt was just like a roll on my fist.

And then, I looked, one down almost hit that, I looked right out there, I could see another one. They, they always spot maybe 20 yards over there to where another bomb had hit. A big crater, you know. Blew up the cement, then I looked there at the bay and there were two great big pools of water right in the edge of the bay, right along that launching ramp where we put our planes in the water. Then, I think it was another one back to the, I never did go to see that bomb. But this one here, I sure looked at that one and I looked down there and I thought I might find a portion of that bomb had exploded.

Naturally, explosions is basically up, but there is also a tremendous force goes to down and to the sides under the ground, under, under the surface of the ground. Alright, now that was actually the end of my shooting career, and I had heard happened about 10:30 in the morning. In the meantime, I later on counted them. I was bleeding from 21 places and there was one piece right in my head, little old thing. I didn't know this, this little thing on the head was just bleeding. And everybody said it looked like I'd had the blow - top of my head - it was just a little scalp wound. And there was some shooting that gun. All the blood was trickling down here.

The guy said 'Finn, you look like you had your head blown off,' and, but the serious part was now, I'm now just finished shooting at that plane, so last plane that come there, and it just had to be Lida , but I had no knowledge, he could have crashed earlier. But he come barreling right down my machine gun if that was him. I've never been able to determine what time during that battle did I lida land up in that little swale. Oh, just like this - gentle open swale, and after December the 7th, see, I was in the sick-bay from December the 8th until the 24th of December.

When I got out of there I was on crutches with my leg in a cast. Because they, these bones in my foot were broken and I don't know that one bone or a dozen that, anyway, and I finally got up to where that plane crashed. I was curious and wanted to go up there. I looked and looked and looked. I could still see the curved in ___where all the brush was scooted out and the bottom of the fuselage hit there. I could see absolutely nothing. See, the sea wall had a great wide tread. I couldn't find any sign at all of those wheels hitting the ground. So, he must have crashed in with his wings up. Now, I kept on looking and I got the pieces right here now. I found one or two little pieces of that plane that had broke off, and I kept on looking. I went up and down and I mean I really searched, and I finally found a piece of things that was actually a part of the plane. I think where little guided come off, and that was when I found up there.

And I showed them to Commander Fushida 50 years later and told him I thought they were off this Lida's airplane. That is right where he crashed. That was him, and here we were had whole God damn Japanese plane. And when it hit the ground the three-bladed propellers digging in, that's trying to tear the engine forward, and when it hit there all that structure of the plane that held it, the whole engine went rolling up the hill, and it all came out in Punchy Hupp's backyard. And right now to sit impact site of the Japanese plane. That was where the engine landed. It had to be, because the impact site was, oh, I'd say maybe 25 yards down the hill.

I could see it when I got out of sick-bay. And when I went back there ______ you could not see that area. There was thousand little saplings, little trees, had grown up right there and completely covered that little swale where the plane actually struck the ground. I was always hoping I could go up there and still see that gully. 'Cause it scraped all, there's a lot of brush there in the mountains and it, but I never was able to prove that point. And, and nothing flat, all the people that saw that thing, had all disappeared. I tried any number of times asking at reunions, anybody here actually saw one of those Jap planes strike the ground. When, after had a accident or did it run out of gas.

They answered did the plane pilot land the thing? Now, the height of that guy was when he shot over my head there when I couldn't absolutely of hit him. And I can't figure out any way how I could have missed him. It was, when he came out of that cloud of smoke right in, just like he knew where that gun barrel was, and came flying right down over my head I'm firing. The instant it come out, I started firing, course there was a delay there, a fraction of a second. That I couldn't say.

But if I didn't hit that plane, I don't know how I could have missed him. And if he was, Lida, I could have shot him down, but he flown up along, during the battle he had flown along side his Commander, who was Lieutenant Commander Fuchida and in, oh, ___. They went that way, that meant the airplane had no food, I guess. Powdered their mouth that meant that they couldn't have any food, I guess to get back to the carrier.

And that he indicated he was going to self-bomb, they didn't have the term Kamikaze. I guess it was not used on December the 7th, that came later in World War II, when those people were just, I mean they were hurting us - those damn Kamikaze's. And lucky by now, I read how many thousands of planes we had and the Japs didn't have any of them left and no ships left. There was a thing there, they did not replace their bottoms.

The Army was in charge. They never thought of building new freighters, stuff, and all the, they had several of their fighting ships were still left. In fact after the War there was one of them moored right by, I'd say, the Hancock as soon as the war was over, my ship was the Hancock, and we pulled right into a Tokyo Bay, right off Yokosuka Navy Yard. And my sky-boss come to me and said, 'John, we are going to go into the bay.' And he says, 'we are going to have liberty, would you like to go?' I said, 'Commander, I'm dying to go, I'd love to get over there.' 'Alright, you certainly can go.' And I was a Lieutenant now, and the first thing I did when we got in there, boy, I, and the big thing they told you, do not take any cigarettes ashore. And everybody went down and bought cigarettes, because those Japs would do anything for a good, one cigarette.

Hell, and so, I didn't smoke. So I borrowed a couple of packs of cigarettes and I put them inside my, I had khaki pants and khaki shirt, and some where, where he got it, I don't know. I had an Eisenhower khaki jacket, side pockets here and I think one up there. And I went ashore, right after the first liberty was announced after the war was over. They waited quite awhile before they quit arming our, well, they did ever do to quit arming them, but they quit flying combat patrol, because it became obvious that the Japs were going to honor their surrender terms. Because only reason, it came from the Emperor, I understand. He decreed that they would surrender. I read that later on.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Mr. Finn, tell me about the day that you received the Medal of Honor.

John William Finn:

O.K. I was taken to Pearl Harbor aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise and we formed up on the flight deck. Pretty soon Admiral Nimitz came out of the thing and proceeded up to a little lectern. He had his aide there with 25 citations of various degrees. One Medal of Honor, two Navy Crosses, and one Distinguished Service Cross of the Navy, and these men were lined up in two ranks in front of this lectern, and I was Number One in line.

And Admiral Nimitz, he read off my name, I proceeded up there, gave him a big salute and he stepped aside, came around the end of the little lectern. And he had made a speech and God, I love to hear that speech. He stepped around the thing. 'Finn, it gives me great pleasure to pin or hang this medal on your neck.'

Then he proceeded to hang that medal on my neck and they took photographs of this. The Admiral got his hands around there putting that medal - snapping it on my neck, and when I was finished, I saluted him, about face and went right back to eank and then he proceeded to read off these other citations he gave. That's where I got the medal from him right there on the flight deck.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

John William Finn:

Yes, I was now, it was March 1947, and I had been transfered from my ship, the Hancock, to the Navy Yard up at Puget Sound. And I'd now been assigned to represerve the catapults on three heavy cruisers. That was now the job I had. I was now no longer on the Hancock just doing nothing but stand - turning their hats around - standing off some deck washers. I was over there and here come a young Lieutenant Commander, which I knew, and he was waving some papers.

Come up the gangway of the U.S.S. Baltimore on which I was working, with my crew of misfits that came from the whole 19th Fleet. They were doing this work on the catapults. And this man waved these papers and says, 'good-bye, civilian.' He was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. I got my orders to come down to San Diego and proceeded out to the Boot Camp. My wife and I drove two cars down here, anyway. Proceeded out to the Boot Camp.

This is the day I finally got out of the Navy, and there was a Captain there, and he chewed me out, said, 'Finn, you've been here more than 30 days. I'm suppose to have you out of here in 30 days. What so the hold up?' And I felt like saying, 'I'm not the guy running your department.' The hold up was with his people. Anyway, he said, 'you've got to get out of here.' And I said, 'well, sir, the only thing I'd asking I'd have some time to get some dental work done and some shrapnel taken out before I get out of the Navy. He said, 'you can do that after you get out.'

But he didn't know anything. I couldn't do it after I got out. They wouldn't choose to do dental work after I got out of the Navy. Oh, there's nothing we can do for you fellas. But anyway, that was the day when I got the final papers, written, so written, it says, 'temporary commission as Lieutenant terminated this day reverts to his permanent enlisted status of Aviation Chief Boatswains Mate, U.S. Navy, and returns, I think it said, to home. I am no longer in the Navy. That's where I got out. Right over at that Boot Camp where I started.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And what rank were you discharged at?

John William Finn:

I was discharged as temporary Lieutenant, but I was discharged, I'm right back how to an Aviation Chief Ordanceman, reverted. I reverted to my permanent listed status of an Aviation. I got the copy of that right in there. And that's the way I got out of the Navy. I forgot the date, but it was in March 1947. I am now no longer Lieutenant, temporary, I'm Aviation Chief Ordanceman with the permanent appointment, U.S. Navy.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Mr. Finn, I'd like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country and I'd like to thank you for participating in the Veterans History Project.

John William Finn:

Well, you are certainly welcome and I hope I did you some good and I hope you can get something out this mixed up mess. And like we said before, so many things of my Navy career, there's just no time today. I mean outstanding things. Like my ship the Houston, by duty in China Station, and the things that happened before and after the Kaneohe Bay.

But the nitty, gritty is I was awarded the Medal of Honor and you heard how I got it and was pretty well shot up on December the 7th. But I am, no way, and I got the Medal of Honor, but if you hear what happened to some of those Medal of Honor guys - what I did was nothing. When these men, ____my heroes, happen to be our living Medal of Honor guys that jumped on hand grenades. That, any man that knows anything, knows he is dead when he jumps on a hand grenade. We have several did that and I guess wonderful medal compare and evacuation things they can do today. There's still several of them alive. Bob Bailard, John Puckett.

There's several of those guys, their guts were blown out of their body, but somehow they're still alive. And we just lost two, John, Roy Benevidos, a little Mexican from El Campo, Texas, and he's dead now. And there was another one, Richard Sorensen, and he's just died. But, anyway, we still have, I think, three of them that jumped on hand grenades are still alive. They are my heroes, the guys that did that.

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  October 26, 2011
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