John W. Finn
US Navy
Medal of Honor, World War II
(Pearl Harbor)

On December 7, 1941 I was only a short distance from Pearl Harbor at Kaneohe Bay.  In fact, our base was hit five minutes before the first bombs began dropping on Pearl Harbor.  I was at home with my wife when Japanese Zeroes began strafing our airstrip, and by the time I got there all hell had broken loose.  Our hangers were burning, our planes were exploding where they sat, and men were dying.  I was so mad, I didn't have time to be afraid.  I grabbed a machinegun and began shooting back at the enemy.  To this day, I don't know if I shot anything down.  I've always said its damn near impossible to shoot a moving airplane down with a machinegun on the ground.  Whether I shot any of the enemy down or not isn't as important as the fact that at least, I fought back.  I knew that no matter what, the men who were doing what those enemy pilots were doing, wasn't going to go unpunished, either by myself on that day, or by our country in the future.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 I was only 55 miles from New York City, traveling to Boston to be with my brothers in the Medal of Honor Society for our annual reunion.  This time I wasn't in a position to fight back, and like the rest of our country had to stand helplessly in the distance while a new enemy killed American citizens.

Shortly after the attack on New York, I received several requests for interviews, as I am the only Medal of Honor recipient still alive from that awful day in 1941.  Almost every reporter has asked me to compare what happened in 2001 in New York, with the events at Pearl Harbor 60 years ago.  I've told them all the same thing.... THERE ARE THREE BIG DIFFERENCES.

1)  The destruction in New York was far worse than Pearl Harbor.  The ships we lost in Pearl Harbor, though large, can not compare to the destruction those two tall buildings, and the ones around them, in New York.  This enemy destroyed far more tonnage than did the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

2)  The cost of the damage itself in New York is far greater than the cost of the damage at Pearl Harbor.  Some of the ships damaged at Pearl Harbor were later salvaged to sail again.  Though the buildings in New York may someday be rebuilt, there is nothing that can be salvaged from this horrible act.

3)  It looks like the loss of life in the tragedy in New York will be two or three times higher than the loss of life at Pearl Harbor.  To make this even worse, those killed in New York were mostly civilians.  Most of the casualties at Pearl Harbor were American soldiers, sailors and marines.


For sure, this calamity is worse than Pearl Harbor.  Another difference is that Pearl Harbor started a war.  We don't know yet if the calamity in New York will lead to war.

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.

I hope our leaders will take things slow, make sure we KNOW every person that is behind this terrible act.  This may mean having to use spies, other kinds of warfare, etc. to gather the intelligence we need to prove who is responsible.  But we don't want to bring these b******s home for a trial.  When we find out who they are, we need to go after them with EVERYTHING we have got, so we don't risk more good American youth by doing things half-way.  We need to hunt them down, and then kill them.

At the same time I want all of us to remember that we are Americans.  Let's act like Americans, do what needs to be done, and do it right.




Because Kaneohe Bay was hit 5 minutes before Pearl Harbor, it is often said that John Finn was the first Medal of Honor recipient of World War II.  Of fifteen men who earned our Nation's highest award on December 7, 1941, Mr. Finn is the only one still surviving.  At age 92 he is the oldest of our living Medal of Honor recipients.

To Read John Finn's Story



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