One of the most enduring symbols of heroism of World War II could be found at the Home Front CafE in Altamont on Wednesday, Oct. 4, seated in front of a heaping plate of eggs, bacon and pancakes.
Retired Navy Lt. John William Finn, the last surviving Pearl Harbor Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, spoke with the community, posed for pictures, signed autographs and ate breakfast at the local cafe.
Seated at the head of the table, the 97-year-old was thanked repeatedly for his service to his country on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan launched a surprise attack against the United States.
A short distance away, stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Finn was home with his wife when Japanese planes began strafing the air station's airstrip. According to a first-hand account by Finn, by the time he arrived, all hell had broken loose. Our hangers were burning, our planes were exploding where they sat, and men were dying.
During the attack, Finn, at the time a chief petty officer, would secure a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in an exposed area of a parking ramp, which faced a heavy onslaught from enemy fire.
"I was so mad," said Finn in the account. "I didn't have time to be afraid."
According to his Medal of Honor citation, although he was "painfully wounded" he continued to man the gun and return fire "with complete disregard for his own personal safety."
Finn reportedly was hit five times by enemy strafing fire during the air raid and in addition suffered shrapnel wounds. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post and seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, moving with great difficulty, Finn returned to the squadron area and supervised the rearming of returning planes.
"His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service," read the Medal of Honor citation.