Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A True American Hero

Defenders recall chaos at K-Bay
'We were getting our clocks cleaned,' Medal of Honor winner say
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Writer

KANE'OHE — Some 68 years have passed since John Finn picked up a .50-caliber machine gun to fend off the Japanese attack on what was then known as Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. But the 100-year-old Medal of Honor winner said there are some things he'll never forget.

For one, he remembers the whipping they took. He also remembers his anger.

"I grew up thinking the Navy, Marines and Army were invincible, and here we were getting our clocks cleaned," Finn, a retired Navy lieutenant, said yesterday at a service to remember the 18 sailors and two civilians who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941, at the Kane'ohe base, which the Japanese first struck on their way to Pearl Harbor. "We got caught so flat-footed. ... They really kicked the living hell out of us on Dec. 7."

Of the 36 PBY Catalina aircraft stationed there, 27 were destroyed, six were heavily damaged and three that were out on patrol escaped unharmed.
Building namesake

Finn, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the attack, traveled from California to attend the Klipper Memorial Ceremony and to be honored for his actions that day.

He was among the first Medal of Honor recipients recognized at the start of World War II. The headquarters building for the Patrol and Reconnaissance Force at the Marine base was dedicated and named for him in 1999. About 200 people were in attendance.

Yesterday's event was to have taken place at the Klipper Monument, which was dedicated to the solemn occasion in 1981, but steel gray overcast skies and a cold drizzly rain moved the ceremony indoors to the base theater.

Also honored at the event was Carol Shimada, 82, for 65 years of employment with the federal government which earned her the title of the longest serving civilian "Marine" at the base.

The Marine Corps band played, including a moving rendition of taps played after the reading of the names of the sailors and civilians who died there on Dec. 7, 1941.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Marine base commander Col. Robert Rice spoke of the dedication of Finn and Shimada.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Finn, then a chief aviation ordnanceman, was home with his wife trying to decide who would make the coffee, said Capt. Rod Urbano, commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2 at the base.

Aircraft and machine-gun fire hadn't raised any concern, but soon a neighbor knocked on Finn's door and told him he was wanted at the airfield, Urbano said.

On his way there, a low-flying Japanese Zero fighter plane made it clear what was happening, and at the field he found the planes under attack.
Multiple wounds

Sailors grabbed whatever weapons they could find, firring back with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on pipes driven into the concrete with sledge hammers.

Finn was wounded several times during the first wave of the attack, sought basic first aid and returned for the second wave, Urbano said.

"Chief Finn's position was totally exposed to enemy strafing and bombing attacks, but he kept it up for more than two hours despite being injured more than five times," Urbano said.

Finn received the Medal of Honor on Sept. 15, 1942, from Adm. Chester Nimitz on the USS Enterprise.

After yesterday's ceremony, Marines, sailors and members of the public lined up to shake Finn's hand and to greet him.

Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Rhodes and Pfc. Anthony Smith said they were motivated by Finn and wanted to honor him.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Rogers said he joined the Navy for its history and to see the world.

"I think it's magical to be around someone with a great history," Rogers said. "To talk to someone of such great significance and importance is very special to me."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Jerald Terwilliger
National Chairman
American Cold War Vetrans, Inc