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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

 

In his 93 years of life, John Finn has seen just about everything.  Nothing however, can compare to what he endured on Tuesday, June 24th at the hands of the very citizens he has dedicated his life to serving.  It is a true tragedy, and for this proud American, it is also an incredible

SHAME!

On December 7, 1941 Navy Chief Ordnance- man John Finn was lying in bed when Japanese airplanes attacked Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.  It was five minutes before the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor.  Rushing to the airfield, Finn bravely stood exposed to incoming enemy fire to fight back.  Wounded nearly two-dozen times, he stood his post and may have been the first to down an enemy plane that day.  He spent the next three weeks recovering from his wounds.

Of that day, John has since remembered, "I never saw myself as a hero, I was just so damn mad, I guess I didn't have enough sense to be frightened or scared.  I didn't know if it would do any good, a machinegun on the ground isn't much against an airplane, but I refused to just sit there and do nothing.  I had to stick it back to them."

On September 11, 2001 John Finn was on his way from his home in California to a convention in Boston.  He was only 155 miles from New York City when he endured the second major tragedy his Nation would suffer in his long life.  The latter was an event Mr. Finn proclaimed even worse than Pearl Harbor.  Too old now to fight back (anyone who knows John won't believe that, of course), he said: 
"I do hope to God we hunt down, find, and kill the people who are responsible for this awful act.  I am all for retaliation, but at the same time I hate to think of the loss of good American youth--and the casualties this time could be even more."

On Tuesday, June 25, 2002 John Finn arrived at the New Orleans airport to return home after a fun-filled week of reminiscing with old shipmates at the reunion of the crew of the USS Hancock.  At the age of 92, John's fellow former sailors escorted him as far as they could.  Not until the following day would they learn of the injustice that befell this great American in the hour that followed.  This time, John couldn't fight back.  Those who insulted and humiliated him were the same people he has dedicated his life to serving.  They were fellow Americans.

 

For the former crew of the USS Hancock the reunion in New Orleans the year following the September 11 attack on America had been both sad and inspiring.  Of note was the presence of retired Navy Lieutenant John W. Finn.  John doesn't get around much any more, at age 92 his bad knees make movement difficult and painful.  Four years ago John's beloved wife Alice, who had been with him from the attack at Kaneohe Bay through retirement from the Navy in 1956, had passed away.  Somehow John, despite his loneliness, still finds a way to get around and attend military functions, reunions, and even to speak in schools and other youth programs.  John feels it is a duty he owes his Nation, to continue to serve in this role to inspire other Americans.  

For his actions at Kaneohe Bay, John Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor.  Because the attack occurred five minutes before Pearl Harbor, most consider John to be the FIRST Medal of Honor recipient of World War II.  Of fifteen men who earned Medals of Honor that day, John is the only one still living.  Celebrating his 93rd birthday on July 24th of this year, John would is the oldest living Recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Even if John didn't have the Medal of Honor hanging around his neck, he would be one of the most incredible men any American could ever meet.  He is a classic in the finest sense of the word, a legend to those who know his story, and an ICON to those who have ever met him.  If Reader's Digest still had the series they ran years ago titled "My Most Unforgettable Character", they'd probably be swamped with stories of John, many of them written by fellow Medal of Honor recipients.

Wherever he goes, John has always got a story to tell and the time to tell it.  He is friendly, personable, and possesses unbelievable energy.  I've seen John visit and tell stories until 3 A.M. at such conventions, then be back up at 7 A.M. and going all day.  

John is also a humble man.  A few years ago I took John to visit with school children here in Pueblo.  "I'm not a hero," he began.  "So I won't talk much about me.  Let me tell you about a REAL hero..." and then he launched into the story of fellow Medal recipient Henry Red Erwin, a man John has always loved and admired.

As this year's reunion of the USS Hancock Association was winding down, there was some confusion about John's airline ticket to return home to San Diego.  On Monday, June 24th Association President James Sweeney and Joe Bizet went to the airport to confirm John's flight for the following day.  Due a technicality ("Didn't you read the fine print on the back of the ticket?"), American Airlines would not honor John's return reservation.  So, searching for another flight, Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Bizet found themselves at the United Airlines counter purchasing a round-trip ticket to get John Finn home.  Mr. Sweeney purchased the ticket on his own, personal credit card.

The United Airlines employee advised Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Bizet that John Finn should be at the airport by 5:30 A.M. the following morning to exchange his voucher for a paper ticket.  It seemed that everything was going smoothly.

Tom Hennessy is a close friend of John's from Latham, New York.  Mr. Hennessey accompanies John to many functions to assist him in any way possible.  On Tuesday, June 25th Tom drove John Finn to the airport, accompanied by Mr. Bizet.  Arriving at 5:20 A.M., Mr. Hennessey spent some time finding a place to park the car while Mr. Bizet escorted John to the United Airlines counter where they were told John did not need a paper ticket.... "You have everything you need to get on board."  Mr. Hennessey entered the airport terminal as John was being escorted towards security.  Both men walked him as far as they were allowed to go.  There they flagged down a United Airlines employee, told her that John has bad knees and might need some assistance, and requested she look out for him.  She promised she would.  They then left their friend in the hands of United Airlines, unable and not allowed to proceed further, confident that John would soon be winging his way home. 

The young woman from United Airlines escorted Mr. Finn through the security checkpoint where John placed his Medal in the basket for screening and was allowed to proceed.  It was the end of any assistance for John.  He asked an employee at that checkpoint where Gate 78 was and was told, "Its right around the corner there."  

"That was the longest damn walk," John said in a recent phone conversation.  "I kept having trouble walking and almost fell down several times."

I asked John, "Didn't the employees offer you any assistance?"

"I didn't ask for help," John replied.   

From there, things went from bad to worse.  John had already passed two security checkpoints, and was wanded yet a third time.  The Medal of Honor in his pocket set off the alarm, and brought John new attention.  (Unlike the case with General Joe Foss earlier this year, no attempt was made to take the Medal from John.  It's presence simply singled John out for further attention.)  None-the-less, no one at security seemed to recognize the Medal, or realize that they had a hero far greater than any celebrity in their midst.

John was pulled aside and told to remove his cowboy boots and socks.  John had great difficulty even getting his boots on, but insists on wearing them everywhere.  He sat down, struggled to get them off, and handed them to a man who, according to John, "was very stern.  Then they took my boots and went off with them, some secret room or something I guess."

"I guess that's standard procedure," John told me in our conversation, "but that was the longest darn wait, but they finally brought me my boots back."  I asked John how many other passengers had been requested to remove their shoes or boots.  "I didn't see anyone else do it," he replied.  "I guess I was the only one."

Now under scrutiny, security began the third degree.  "Who bought your ticket?" a lady at the ticket counter asked.  John tells me she was polite but very direct and firm.

"I don't know," John replied.  "My association bought it for me."

With insinuations that John might be guilty of purchasing the ticket with a stolen credit card, and might be subject to charges of fraud, he was told his ticket would NOT be honored by United unless he could produce the credit card with which it was purchased.  Of course, Mr. James Sweeney was by now far away, and there was little John could do.

Despite his age, his health, his fatigue and the bad knees that often require John to walk on crutches or that confine him to a wheelchair, no assistance was offered to Mr. Finn as he was detained.  

John was informed that if he would personally purchase a ticket, he would at last be allowed to board his flight.  "Fortunately I had my checkbook with me and enough money to cover the check," John says.  "It was $631.70 or something like that, and lots of times I don't have that much money in the bank, but this time, luckily I did.

"The thing that bothered me was, they kept saying:  'We have to protect United from fraud'.  It was like they were accusing me of something bad," John said.

The details of this sad event were initially provided to me in phone conversations with both Mr. Hennessey and Mr. Bizet.  Mr. Hennesey told me that John was picked up at the San Diego airport by Finn's son, Joe.  Joe noted that normally when his father returned from the trip, he talked about it all the way home, but "This was the first time I've ever picked dad up that he SLEPT all the way home."

Mr. Bizet learned of these events the day following, when he called California to see how John's flight home had gone.  In this article, I will not print what he said about his reaction upon learning the indignity rendered this American hero.  Mr. Bizet immediately sent letters to the White House, United Airlines, The American Legion, the VFW, and Medal of Honor Society president Nick Bacon.  A week later, the only reply he had received had been from Nick Bacon.

On Friday, July 5th I visited by phone with Mr. Finn.  He corrected some parts of the story, emphasizing that his Medal of Honor was never an issue as it had been with Mr. Foss.  Security just didn't know what it was.  The thing that bothered John was the repeated insistence that he produce a credit card to prove he was not trying to commit fraud.

Mr. John Finn, MOH

AN AMERICAN ICON

Webmaster's Note:

At the bottom of this page, I will include contact information for United Airlines Customer Service Center.  But the problem here is far beyond United Airlines, it is a societal problem.  Personally, if I  or most other veterans were working in an airport and saw a Medal of Honor passing through, especially in the possession of a 92-year-old man, I would make every effort to treat him with the greatest respect, and offer him every courtesy.  If John Finn were a celebrity, he'd have been greeted, feted, and treated to the red carpet.  Instead, he was left to fend for himself, alone and struggling to simply go home after doing his patriotic duty.

Less than six months ago, World War II Marine Corps Ace of Aces Joe Foss was detained at the Phoenix Airport because security there did not recognize his Medal of Honor for what it was.  Had Joe been a rock star or athlete, he'd have been quickly recognized and given the Red Carpet treatment.  Instead, Joe is NOT a celebrity (though he hosted a popular TV show years ago.)  He is only an American Patriot who earned the Medal of Honor during World War II, is one of three such heroes to appear on the cover of LIFE magazine, and is former governor of South Dakota.

Two years ago Marine Medal of Honor recipient Mike Clausen was guest of honor for a Marine Corps Birthday celebration on the East Coast.  After the ceremony, several fellow former Marines took him to lunch at Outback Restaurant, requesting that he wear his medal.  Numerous customers recognized the award for what it was, and began striking up conversations.  In a gesture of kindness, Mike began giving those who asked, autographed copies of his citation.  As a result, he was rebuked by the management for soliciting.  Management then called police, who confronted Mike as he left the restaurant.

In the Outback incident, one employee was fired, another retrained, a donation made to a charity of Mike's choice, and an apology rendered by the company's upper management.

Today there are only 143 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.  It is one of our rarest National treasures.  It's rarity is no excuse for the ignorance that exists as to what it is, or what it represents.  While I am outraged at the treatment of John Finn by United Airlines employees, quite frankly this situation could have happened in almost any of thousands of other settings.  

Why?  Because we have failed in remembering what is important, and in teaching our young who the REAL heroes of our nation are.  How do we rectify this?  I don't know.  In my own way, I try to do my part.  HomeOfHeroes.com is now getting nearly 3 million hits a month...I thought that was pretty good...but apparently we haven't scratched the surface of what needs to be accomplished.  I'll keep doing what I can, but we as a NATION need to reassess the values we promote, distinguish between celebrity and heroism, and render the proper honor to our real heroes by never forgetting WHO they are and WHAT they have done.

Doug Sterner
Since the inception of this website four years ago, I have taken great steps NOT to editorialize or espouse opinions, either my own or that of others.  With my apologies, I felt it necessary to make this an exception.  I'll try not to do it again.

 

Read about John Finn's
Medal of Honor Action

Read John Finn's
Remarks about 9/11

Read about Joe Foss'
Incident in Phoenix Airport

 

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Our Visitors Comments:

Having served in the US Army for 14 years and a staunch supporter of the US Military in my now civilian position,  I am appalled at the lack of knowledge, respect and pure rudeness given to a true American Hero.  This notwithstanding,  this instance demonstrates the lack of respect, and general courteously given to the other Americans that use the airlines to travel to their various places everyday.  I also was "under scrutiny" for my pocket change setting off the metal detectors.  I was scrutinized, accused of trying to evade their sensors (by walking through them?  Such impeccable logic-it still escapes me) and treated very rudely by the staff attending so studiously to their duties.  I entertained the thought of protesting, but having observed another person that the staff had randomly picked for their attentions, by their own statements,  I thought that the prudent thing to do was just take their abuse and go my way.  Was I wrong? Should we give up our right to respect in the face of national security?  I believe these security people should have to endure the same injustice afford by themselves in the pursuit of their duties.  Mr. Finn's experiences are certainly not isolated, simply more serious due to his standing and his obvious infirmities.  Yes, United was the carrier I used this summer to Oregon, though the security checkpoint was the airport's own screening process.
Bob Leroy  rrtaclsas@yahoo.com
Saturday, September 14, 2002 12:00 AM


John Finn is a True American. What a disgrace United Airlines has shown in their gross lack of "Customer Service". My husband has had the pleasure of being John's personal escort on his visits to Hawaii. And upon our meeting, I have found a warm and jovial man. For him to take this in stride, finds me beside myself. I am outraged for him. What more can we do to make United Airlines accountable for their malicious treatment of Jonh Finn? As for my husband and I, we have cancelled our membership in United's Frequent Flyer program, refusing to patronize them again. I have written a letter to the head of Customer Service at United: Diane Soucybergen (1-877-406-1059; for those of you who read this and would like to fax a letter in correcting an extreme injustice that was done to John Finn.
Mr.&Mrs.Lyle V. Eagle (AOCS) <alohaeagle1@aol.com>
Waipahu, Hawaii USA - Friday, August 30, 2002 at 15:18:54 (EDT)
Your story about MOH holder, Joe Finn's return home made me cry. How can people be so insensitive and cruel. It's tough for a lot of our seniors to get around. A helping hand is greatly appreciated. Because of what happened to Mr. Finn, I will not travel in the future, on United Airlines.
Janet Reyelts <Janet_Reyelts@NPS.gov>
Golden , CO USA - Friday, August 30, 2002 at 12:49:29 (EDT)
The shameful treatment of MOH holder, Joe Finn is further evidence that this country needs to go back to teaching American History in the classroom. Let's forget about being politically correct and give the kids some real heroes to look up to instead of some over paid ball players, rock star junkies and big time movie stars. GREAT SITE, Semper Fi.
Capt. Tom Moore, USMC (Ret.) <Dinty1916@aol.com>
Merriam, KS USA - Monday, August 26, 2002 at 20:13:55 (EDT)
Wonderful site that i intend to explore fully. Even though i know JOHN FINN that shoul not have happened to any one of his advanced age and obvious difficulty in getting around.Shame on all involved and for all who permitted it to happen by not teaching basic politeness to our youngsters.
BMCS MDV Daniel (Dan) KELLER USN RET. <drkeller@cmh.net>
Atwater , oh USA - Monday, August 12, 2002 at 14:03:43 (EDT)
What a fabulous site! I read Mr. Sterner's story in the Chieftain this morning (Sunday) and immediately pulled up the website. I spend a lot of time on my computer and now I really have something worthwhile to look into. I have been a long time advocate of anything that has to do with our military men and women. My dad served in the Navy in WWII, I was just a baby at the time, but I guess for that reason, I grew up with an empathy for and a deep attachment to our military men and women. I read the article regarding Mr. Finn and I was so disheartened at the idea that such a fine, upstanding, Medal of Honor recipient would be treated in such a manner. I realize that the airlines must be more careful than ever before because of 9/11, but common sense must have some say in what goes on and how a person is treated. Even if he had not been a MOH recipient, Mr. Finn, as an elderly citizen should have been shown more respect than he was. Thank you for this website. We need all the information we can muster to make the public aware of our most prized possessions, our military men and women. We, in Pueblo, should feel a great honor for the four outstanding Medal of Honor recipients that are now being shown in statue form. Thank you Mr. Sterner for all your hard work and for being instrumental in bringing this wonderful tribute for our MOH men to Pueblo and for your website. I salute you, Myrna Chandler
Myrna Chandler <mchan@fone.net>
Pueblo, Co USA - Sunday, August 11, 2002 at 10:45:22 (EDT)
I was born a baby boomer in 1951. I have lived my life in a land free from the horrors' of war. I received this gift from my many uncles, aunts and cousins who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I am also smart enough to know that my luck is due to the sacrifices of the many who have served their country in both War and Peace time. John Finn did deserve respect for being a MOH holder. But he should of received help and respect for just being a human being, who needed a little help. This is what really hurts. To all who serve Thank you.
Laura Durkin <jennyd@ameritech.net>
Orland Park, IL USA - Saturday, July 27, 2002 at 13:53:38 (EDT)
I was outraged at the treatment Joe Finn received at the hands of American Airlines employees, and wonder what, if any, things they did to apologize. It saddens me to think that so many in our country have no knowledge of, nor respect for, the great personal sacrifices and lives that have guaranteed the freedom we enjoy today. I served as a Navy Nurse during the Vietnam era, and think that all young people today need to be educated about our true history and greatness. God Bless America, and I pray that we fall on our faces and beseech Him to pour out His mercy on our country and forgive us for our indifference to Him.
Diane Bailey
USA - Sunday, July 21, 2002 at 13:49:51 (EDT)
I HAVE VISITED THIS SITE OFTEN, BUT NEVER SIGNED IN. HOWEVER, WHEN I READ ABOUT MR. FINN, I HAD TO SAY SOMETHING. WHAT A SHAME OUR CHILDREN AND ADULTS KNOW SO LITTLE ABOUT SO FEW, WHO GAVE OF THEMSELVES. THANK YOU TO ALL VETERANS, THANK YOU ALL FOR MY FREEDOM.
Delilah Gray <delilahgray@hotmail.com>
Lawrenceville, IL USA - Friday, July 12, 2002 at 15:38:38 (EDT)

I am a Flight Attendant For Southwest Airlines, and I had the extreme pleasure of having Mr. John Finn and Frances Carmichael on my flight on the way to Providence, where he was going to be in the 4th of July parade....He was even going to be riding in a car that was his back in Hawaii, that someone had restored for him. I want to let you know that Southwest treated him with so much respect, and we were so honored to have him in our presence, What a HOOT he is. We dedicated our flight to him, made a P.A. that we had a very special passenger on board, gave him a bottle of champagne, and free wine for him and Frances. Everyone on board clapped for him, and thanked him for what he did for our Country.

What a wonderful man he is, I will always treasure meeting him.

Sincerely,
Stacey Wise
Email: Bornwise1-at-cox.net  Phoenix, AZ
July 4, 2006

 

Thanks to being a proud Ordie wife, I have had the honor of meeting Mr. Finn on several occasions. He IS a National Hero (whether he accepts the acknowledgement or not). This article made my eyes well up with tears as it did others. This country has become more of a disappointment to me for reasons like this. Hollywood has taken over and a true American has become more of a lost thought. I could write a series of books on how ridiculous this issue is. The whole incident is ridiculous! I think the media should get the full story and air it!!! United and American airlines are........... my comments on them just can't be published and are far from what a lady should say. I'm glad that Mr. Finn made it home safely and I hope the rest of us can do what needs to be done so that this doesn't happen again (to anyone). My best wishes and regards go out to Mr. Finn. He is a fine wonderful TRUE REDBLOODED AMERICAN and it's people like him that make me proud to 1. be an American and 2. be an Ordie wife! God Bless!

Jilleen Kesler  skjk01(at)yahoo.com  Pace, FL

I've visited this site often, never registered though. But after reading all this, I simply HAD to comment on this incredible story. After all, I LIVE in PEACE in my country thanks to U.S. soldiers who fought and DIED here. Let's not forget: MOH recipients, apart from being obvious heroes, are also representative for those who didn't make it. I stand in awe and tears come to my eyes every time I visit the U.S. cemetery in Normandy, France. More than 9000 U.S. soldiers, each and every one of them a HERO! They died so that me and my wife might live in a free society. Self- sacrifice, ultimate courage and heroism for a just cause: MOH recipients epitomize these qualities in an extreme way. And if you're extremely lucky you might run into a MOH recipient who is still among us! I've never been that fortunate. The very idea that Airline staff ran into Mr. Finn and didn't even know what his MOH is all about( and this on U.S. soil!!!)is...very disappointing.

Koen Van Parijs  koekie(a)versateladsl.be   Zelzate, Belgium

From the posting dates of these comments it is clear that Mr. Finn no longer fly neither American Airlines not United Airlines anymore, rightfully so and a good thing. Looks like South West Airlines is in and being more responsible and presenting itself with more common sense and respect to its customers. Look, even if any of these people do not know what a Medal of Honor looks like, the man is a senior and most likely need help to go through the "problems" we, the younger generation have made. Their generation have proved themselves that what a wonderful and powerful country US of A is. We need to do better. Next time if you see seniors in need of help, alone, do something. He/she may have done something for this country in the past and that's why we are here, enjoying our lives. Chin Tu (Vietnam vet.) Vista, CA 12/06/2006
Chin Tu  EMAIL: cytu(at)hotmail.com   Vista, CA

Let me just say this about John Finn. I know this man personally and I would trust him with mine and/or my children's lives. As far as I am concerned, there should be more men and women like him around to love and defend this wonderful country of ours. Those who listen to John will shortly realize that without folks like him, there would be less freedom in our country. We all owe him the most respect that we can possibly muster up. He is the basis for our democracy and the reason we can write our opinions and cares.
John S. Keiser EMAIL: keiser31(at)charter.net  Phoenix, OR

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