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Interview with Donald Patrick Finn [8/25/2002]

Maureen Messina:

Mr. Finn is my father. He is 87 years old. He was born on [birth date redacted]. My name is Maureen and I am his youngest daughter. Also attending the interview is my mother, Adelaide, and my husband ___. Okay, Dad, can you state for the recording what war and branch of service you served in?

Donald Patrick Finn:

It was World War II. I served in the United States Navy.

Maureen Messina:

And what was your rank?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Before the war and at Pearl Harbor I was Aviation Machinist, rate Third Class.

Maureen Messina:

And where did you serve?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I was serving between -- in the area of Midway Island and back to Pearl Harbor. We were based in Pearl Harbor and had a tour of duty just previous to December the 7th at Midway Island, which is a few hundred miles, quite a few hundred miles east of Pearl Harbor -- west of Pearl Harbor, pardon me. West of Pearl Harbor.

Maureen Messina:

Now were you drafted or did you enlist?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I enlisted.

Maureen Messina:

When did you enlist?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I enlisted in August 1939.

Maureen Messina:

And why did you join?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I thought the Navy might be a good career and I meet see a lot of the world.

Maureen Messina:

Do you recall your first day in the service?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Indeed.

Maureen Messina:

What was it like?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I was aboard the -- after boot camp in San Diego, I was assigned with several of my boot camp buddies to the aircraft carrier Enterprise, which was based in Pearl Harbor.

Maureen Messina:

So your first station was at Pearl Harbor?

Donald Patrick Finn:

That's right, Pearl Harbor.

Maureen Messina:

What was boot camp like?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Early to rise, lots of drill, late to bed. Very -- I think it was about six weeks of drill and learning to shoot a rifle. Really didn't know where we would go from there.

Maureen Messina:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Oh, yes, I do. I remember Mr. -- his name was Hughes. He's the only one I remember, and I won't say why I remember him. [Laughter] Maureen's Husband: Are you sure?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Yeah, I am sure.

Maureen Messina:

Okay, your first station was to Pearl Harbor?

Donald Patrick Finn:

That's right.

Maureen Messina:

When did you arrive in Pearl Harbor?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I think it must have been in early November.

Maureen Messina:

Of 1939?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Of 1939. And I was assigned to the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Maureen Messina:

So, did you see combat?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Not until December the 7th, 1941. There wasn't any combat until then.

Maureen Messina:

Could you please tell us about that day.

Donald Patrick Finn:

A lot of the guys had already gone to breakfast and a lot of the guys had not. And I was one of the ones that missed his breakfast. And while I was looking out the window toward where our hangers were, fully intending to go to breakfast, we watched a plane that was diving in the vicinity of the hangers where our planes were caged. And we heard a loud explosion. And when the plane pulled out of its dive, we saw the insignia of the Japanese Air Force and that's when all the hub bub started among those of us who were still in the barracks waiting to go to breakfast. And we never went to breakfast. We did go to the mess hall but there was no breakfast being served because there were a lot of people coming in from ships that had already been hit that were moored close to Port Island. So we never had breakfast. And a lot of people were coming in for first aid from the ships who were moored close to the missile dropping at Port Island.

Maureen Messina:

And you were on Port Island, right?

Donald Patrick Finn:

And I was on Port Island. So it was some time, maybe as much as a half an hour, while the mess hall was full of people coming in from other -- from ships, first aid and so on. And officers letting us know that pretty soon we better get down to wherever our battle stations were. And of course, our battle stations were way down at the other end of the island where the sea planes were housed. So on the way down, legging it pretty fast, we could see some of the planes that are already dropped torpedoes. There were planes making torpedo runs and we could see them when we were running down to the hanger where our planes were. And when we got there, we saw that a bomb had gone through the roof of the hanger where our planes were and blown off the hanger door, which was about 30-feet high and twice as wide. A huge hanger. And the concrete, what they call the -- well, where the planes, when they came up before they went into the hanger, it was a place where the several planes had been outside the hanger and they were hit by flying concrete and bursting bombs. And we were put to work trying to clear some of the debris while the battle was still going on. There were still planes coming down the channel making torpedo runs on the ships that were in the harbor yet.

Maureen Messina:

Keep going.

Donald Patrick Finn:

And when the first wave ended, I don't remember how long it lasted, maybe an hour, then there was a lull and then there was a second wave. So we were on the channel, kind of narrow that comes in from the sea to Pearl Harbor, and one ship was trying to make its way out. It got away from its anchorage and wanted to get put to sea, but it never made it. It got stuck in the channel just opposite from where our hangers were. I think the ship was the West Virginia, but I am not sure now. Along sometime in the afternoon lunch came around, I don't remember what it was. Sandwiches, I guess. And we were at the hanger for the rest of the night. We didn't go back into the barracks.

Maureen Messina:

Did you see the Arizona burn?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I don't remember whether the Arizona -- I don't think we even looked at the Arizona when we started to run for it. We just knew later that the Arizona had been hit, sunk.

Maureen Messina:

Were there any -- were there many casualties in your unit or any?

Donald Patrick Finn:

No, not in our unit. There were no casualties, no. No. We were, for the time, not on a ship at all. Not even so close after they were hit. So all the ships were back from where our planes were, as much as a quarter mile or more. And at night, when it was dark, there were some planes, of our own planes as I recall, coming in for landings and they would have been from one of the carriers that had been out at sea. There were no carriers parked in Pearl Harbor at the time of the bombing. And when some of those planes come in, some of the people, our people with machine guns got itchy fingers and shot at them, but they didn't hit them, I guess. So that ended Pearl Harbor that day.

Maureen Messina:

Do you remember ____? Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Donald Patrick Finn:

No -- well, I got a citation as a member of the force that went out from Pearl Harbor a few days after Pearl Harbor, when we went out to the Pacific in the area of Australia and the Dutch East Indies, or maybe the West ones. The Dutch Indies anyway, at Sarabia, and -- where the island of Bali is in the Dutch -- the operation of the Island of Ambon. So it was a unit citation, and the reason for the unit citation was constant, daily patrols, long hours and a terrific attrition of aircraft. With the 12 or so planes that went out, there weren't any that came back. It was tough going on most patrols. There was as much accidents, and in fact a couple of planes were shot up, and a couple were bombed in hangers. We were constantly on the run. So that was what the unit citation was for. And it was given after we were back in the states and we were stationed at Whidbey Island in Washington and reforming. And we ended up in the Aleutians. But the unit citation was for the operation in the Pacific in the area of Australia and Dutch Indies.

Maureen Messina:

And who was your pilot?

Donald Patrick Finn:

My pilot was Lieutenant Senior Grade Thomas Moorer, who later became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps after the war. I don't know whether he is still living.

Maureen Messina:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, we had gotten letters, cookies and cakes. Had a couple of leaves. That's the way, leaves and letters.

Maureen Messina:

Were you able to have leaves after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Oh, yeah, I had a couple of leaves after. After all, there was three or four more years of war yet and I was home a couple of times.

Maureen Messina:

You went home to see your family where?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Chicago. And Idaho. I had two places to go, Chicago and Idaho.

Maureen Messina:

How did you get to those places?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Oh, it was by train. From San Francisco up through -- went back to Chicago on I don't know what kind of -- I don't think they had the Amtrak then. [Laughing] Oh, I had a leave driving across country with some of my friends who graduated from the mechanics school in Norfolk, Virginia, where we went from the Enterprise -- this was before the war started, of course. So I had the leave from -- one leave in Chicago, one leave in Idaho. That was all the leave I had.

Maureen Messina:

How often did you write to your family at home?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Oh, a couple of times a month.

Maureen Messina:

And did you receive letters from them?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Oh, yes, I did. Cake and cookies.

Maureen Messina:

Cake and cookies?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Cakes and cookies.

Maureen Messina:

What other memorable time do you remember from World War II?

Donald Patrick Finn:

San Francisco. We were stationed in San Francisco for a few weeks and that was a very pleasant place to be. That was between tours of duty up to the Aleutians and back again. Also, stationed in Washington State at Whidbey Island. So we were back and forth. Two tours of duty in the Aleutians. A long time waiting assignment, which was very pleasant in San Francisco. How about -- I remember when we were coming back from I believe it was the second tour of duty, we were ending up the second tour of duty in the Aleutians, and flying from Attu, where we had been for three weeks patrolling as the infantry, it was mopping up the Attu. Almost all of the Japanese soldiers were killed or committed suicide, and when we were coming back our plane developed engine trouble over one of the islands on the way back to Dutch Harbor and crashed, a mechanical malfunction. And we were close to the beach. The thing was, that the gas, a gas line left one of our engines starved and we got close to the beach and put out the life raft and put provisions in it to go ashore when the plane ran on the rocks and tore the bottom of it and dumped us in the drink. And we landed on the beach with no supplies, no food. And we were at one end of the island, and I don't know whether -- I think there was a radio message sent out so that the people back in Dutch Harbor knew what happened to us. And I didn't know it, but I guess the officers, pilots, Lieutenant Jolly and I don't remember who the other names were. They got instructions to make a forced march from one end of this island, which I don't know, 25, 30 miles from the point where we crashed and where a PT boat would rendezvous us on the other end of the island. So we marched -- we stayed that night on the shore with no food. And I guess maybe it wasn't 30 miles, but it was probably 15 to 20 miles that we walked over some pretty rough terrain and to the spot on the north shore or south -- I don't know south or north shore now, where the PT boat. And we joined up, and the PT boat was pretty small and it was crowded and the sea was rough. And it was quite a long ways from this island to Dutch Harbor. And that was probably my scariest adventure in the war. (A break was taken at this time.)

Maureen Messina:

This is the second half of the interview with Donald Patrick Finn, 87-year-old World War II veteran. Do you recall when your service ended?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Yes. Oh sure, yes, I do. And I was thinking did I hear shipping-over music or am I going to get out? It's been quite a hectic time. But I know the government is working on a program for GI's if they haven't been to college already, could go to college and further their education. So I opted to take the government up on that. So I went through the procedure, I don't remember what it was now, but select a college. And since I had folks in Chicago, my mother and sisters lived in Chicago, I put in. I don't know what the procedure was, but I put in for it and I started at DePaul University in 1945, just a month or so after the war ended.

Maureen Messina:

When did you -- when was your service completed? Your last day?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, sometime in May or June I think it was. And I was discharged from Minneapolis. Minneapolis, Minnesota. And I began the fall term at DePaul University enrolling in a liberal arts program. I graduated in '50, 1950. The war was over in '45. I think it took me an extra six months, that's why it was 1950. I graduated in the class of 1950 with a liberal arts degree, a major in English. I wanted to be a journalist.

Maureen Messina:

And had you kept diaries during the war?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Yeah, I did have seven or eight notebooks pretty well filled up all the way from December the 7th until, until 1945. Sometimes there were events that were missing, but things were too busy and my memory would fail me, so they didn't get written down.

Maureen Messina:

So you started your journal on December 7, 1941?

Donald Patrick Finn:

No, I started it before that. Let me see. No, I didn't start until December the 7th, 1941.

Maureen Messina:

So that must have been a very pivotal day.

Donald Patrick Finn:

Yeah.

Maureen Messina:

So what was your career after the war and after you finished school?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I would say it was a checkered career because I tried a great many things. I was an editor for -- a lot of companies right after the war and even before the war had what they called house organs and they were done for the benefit of the employers. Some companies were very large and they had quite extensive staffs just devoted to the house organ. So I did that for a couple of years. And I also tried selling, not successful. And I also tried with a couple, a man and a wife who had a marionette show that they took around the country, and I booked the show for grade schools in Indiana and Illinois for a year or so. And one half of the man-and-wife team died and that ended the show. And after that, I did become a reporter for a small town newspaper. A photographer and journalist. Let me see. Having a little bit of a lapse in here now.

Maureen Messina:

Did you spend a lot of time thinking or writing about your military experience?

Donald Patrick Finn:

No, I didn't. Once I had the diary made I put it in the, put it in the box. [Laughing]

Maureen Messina:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about war?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I always thought the same thing about war -- there shouldn't be any. I think it made me a little leery when reading about wars, to be darn sure that everybody isn't right or everybody isn't wrong, and there should be a lot more negotiation.

Maureen Messina:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about the military?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I thought -- I met a lot of good guys in the Service and made a lot of friends. And I think maybe I was better for the experience.

Maureen Messina:

How did your services and experience in the Service affect your life?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, I guess if I hadn't gone in the Service I never would have gone to college for one thing. And took a different direction all together. I would have been out there farming. Not that there is anything wrong with farming, but I changed from being a farm boy to being a city boy, which a lot of people did. And I did a lot more reading about a lot more things than I ever would have done if I hadn't been in the Service.

Maureen Messina:

Did you keep in touch with anyone you met in the military?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Yeah, three or four people. But I went all the way through college with them, so there was almost instant contact between the time -- though I hadn't known them in the Service, we all met at DePaul University and during all that time. Oh, I forgot to stay that I joined something called the National Student Association and in 1948 about 150 students from all over the country went on a European tour of -- extended for three months through France, England, Belgium and Holland. And from those people that I met who were students from all over the United States, and I had not gone to school with them, but all these people got to know each other in three months touring Europe on bicycles and working on farms. More bicycling than working on farms.

Maureen Messina:

Did you ever join a veterans' organization?

Donald Patrick Finn:

I never joined a veterans' association, no.

Maureen Messina:

How come?

Donald Patrick Finn:

That's a good question and hard to answer. Many people did, and then many more didn't.

Maureen Messina:

Anything else you'd like to add?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, I'm surprised that a project like this was started.

Maureen Messina:

Why?

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, maybe I'm not really surprised either, but I think it's a good thing that it did and maybe that takes the place of officially joining some group. It's just something that happened naturally.

Maureen Messina:

Yeah.

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well.

Maureen Messina:

Thank you very much.

Donald Patrick Finn:

Well, you're welcome.

Maureen Messina:

Appreciate it. [End of video.]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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