Ex-sailor was oldest living Medal of Honor recipient
John Finn, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, whose modest demeanor and lifestyle belied his legendary status as an American hero, died Thursday at age 100 at a Chula Vista veterans home.
He was assigned to Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Dec. 7, 1941, when he found himself firing at Japanese planes from an exposed position for more than two hours despite being hit 21 times by bomb and bullet fragments.
The longtime East County resident was credited by some with single-handedly shooting down a Japanese aircraft, but he would later say, “I can’t honestly say (for sure) I hit any, but I shot at every damn plane I could see.”
He was believed to be one of the first Americans to take up arms against the Japanese when they bombed the naval base and nearby Pearl Harbor, an attack that brought the United States into World War II.
Friends and fellow veterans said that in military circles, Finn was comparable to a rock star. People clamored for a handshake or to have a picture taken with him wherever he went. Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Tom Kelley said Finn was a big hit at a Veterans Day event in Massachusetts last year.
“He’s kind of a legend,” Kelley said. “He was a very warm person and had a phenomenal memory. He could remember everything and tell stories and not repeat himself. He made everyone who met him feel like they were the most important person in the world.”
Finn often downplayed his heroic efforts during World War II and said he was just doing his job. “I read about other guys with the medal who lost their lives or really suffered in wars, and I think about myself. I was just an uneducated man who got mad as hell one day,” he said in a 1984 interview with The San Diego Union...