The Warrior of Kāneʻohe Pearl Harbors First Medal of Honor Recipient

Seventy-five years ago, the tranquil wind-swept and sun-soaked skies over the then-U.S. territory of Hawai’i were pierced by the whine of 353 Japanese aircraft, launched in a surprise attack from four Japanese aircraft carriers on the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor, O’ahu.

On that day, December 7, 1941, thousands of American service members faced a reality worse than their wildest nightmares, and scrambled to react to the hundreds of enemy planes that appeared without warning in the skies above. They responded in any way they could, with all of the training they could remember, and all of the courage they could muster.

Seventy-five years after the events that brought our nation into the Second World War, the United States Navy will accept delivery of one of the most technologically capable and advanced warships the world has ever seen, the future USS John Finn (DDG 113), in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She is named after Aviation Chief Ordnanceman John William Finn, whose legacy was cemented in a hail of gunfire while manning a .50-caliber Browning machine gun on an exposed runway at Naval Air Station Kāneʻohe Bay.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, ACOM (PA) John Finn was at home, “engaged in a good-natured debate with wife Alice about who was going to make coffee.” Upon learning of the attacks underway at Pearl Harbor, he raced to his squadron on the windward side of the island. Upon sighting an enemy fighter, Finn “threw it into second and it’s a wonder I didn’t run over every sailor in the air station.” He first relieved the squadron’s painter of a mounted .30-caliber machine gun, before switching to a .50-caliber gun, in the process receiving 21 shrapnel wounds from strafing airplanes. Finally persuaded to receive medical attention, Finn left while being treated to help other wounded men, and to prepare for another possible attack. For his ingenuity, selflessness, and devotion, he was presented the Medal of Honor by Admiral Chester Nimitz on 14 September 1942 onboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6).

During the attack on O’ahu, and in the decades that have followed, the legend of Lt. Finn has continued to grow. The first recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II, he was also the oldest surviving MoH recipient when he passed away in 2010 at the age of 100. A truly humble man, he once stated that, “Here they’re paying you for doing your duty, and that’s what I did…I never intended to be a hero. But on Dec. 7, by God, we’re in a war.” Lt. Finn served his country for thirty years in a variety of positions, was commissioned as an Ensign in 1942, and ultimately retired as a Lieutenant in 1956. Lt. Finn’s background as an enlisted member and officer underscore the importance of the cooperation between both enlisted and officer required and revered in our naval service, and is reflected by the inclusion of both the enlisted cutlass and officer’s sword on the ship’s crest.

The delivery of DDG 113 from shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, marks another step on the path towards introduction into the fleet. As the Navy’s first dedicated new construction Aegis Weapons System Baseline 9 platform, USS John Finn will be able to respond to a multitude of threats and provide Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capability incorporating Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) 5.0 and Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA). Deployable worldwide, she will become an invaluable asset in our nation’s repertoire, capable of responding to any threat, anywhere, at any time. Due in large part to her great versatility, she will be able to operate independently or as part of a Surface Action Group (SAG) or Carrier Strike Group (CSG). John Finn will be the 63rd Arleigh Burke class destroyer to deliver to the Navy.

Following ship delivery, also known as Ship’s Custody Transfer, the crew of the future USS John Finn will continue to train and prepare to move aboard the ship in 2017. They will complete multiple certifications and evaluations, ultimately resulting in a fully certified ship ready to join the Fleet. She will commission, in 2017, and then sail to her homeport of Naval Base San Diego.

As the Navy prepares to welcome the future USS John Finn into the Fleet, we give pause to remember Finn and the thousands of others who sacrificed in service of their nation on that day seventy-five years ago. To echo the ship’s motto and her namesake, Status et Pugno! Stand fast and fight!

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