Navy commissions destroyer honoring WWII’s first Medal of Honor recipient

The crew of the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the USS John Finn, brings the ship to life during its commissioning ceremony in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Saturday, July 15, 2017.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 16, 2017

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii — Just over 75 years ago, John Finn manned a machine gun for two hours firing at Japanese planes strafing him and attacking Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Oahu.

On the other side of the island a fleet of aircraft laid waste to Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. On the windward side the island, planes ravaged Finn’s body with almost two dozen wounds.

A Marine Corps chief aviation ordnanceman, Finn was awarded the first Medal of Honor of World War II. He survived the attack and his wounds, living to the ripe age of 100 when he died in 2010.

On Saturday, the Navy commissioned the USS John Finn, its latest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer.

“USS John Finn is about to join the Pacific Fleet and the PACOM joint team,” said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, during a ceremony beside the ship, which arrived at Pearl Harbor a week ago. “This ship and her crew are ready to sail into harm’s way and assume the critical mission of safeguarding our nation’s interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

“In my opinion,” he said, “we can’t get our most advanced assets here fast enough.”

The ship’s sponsor was Laura Stavridis, the wife of retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

The John Finn is the first new ship built from the keel up with the Aegis Baseline 9 weapon system, which enables the ship to simultaneously conduct air warfare and ballistic missile defense, Harris said.

“That means the John Finn brings both the saber and the shield to the fight,” Harris said. “American know-how to get her done – anytime and anywhere.”

Weighing just over 9,100 tons, the John Finn was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss. Carrying a crew of roughly 300, it is just over 500 feet long and driven by four turbines and two propellers for a top speed of about 35 mph.

“Handles like a dream,” John Finn Cmdr. Micheal Wagner told reporters Thursday.

The ship will be homeported in San Diego, but given Finn’s immortal connection with Hawaii, officials decided it was fitting to commission it here.

On the morning of the 1941 surprise attack, Finn was at his home about a mile from the Marine Corps aircraft hangars. He raced to the scene of the attack, taking over a 50-caliber machine gun manned by painter, telling him that he had more training in firing it.

Adm. Chester Nimitz personally presented him the Medal of Honor in September 1942 aboard the USS Enterprise while at Pearl Harbor.
Finn retired from the Navy in 1956 as a lieutenant.

He was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pearl Harbor attack before passing away.

One wall in the enlisted dining area of the USS John Finn is devoted to a mural depicting Finn’s wife, Alice, inspecting the Medal of Honor adorning the then-young sailor’s chest. Behind them are the mountains that stand in the center of Oahu.

Mrs. Finn, who died in 1998, holds another place of honor on the ship’s bow. The 5-inch cannon there is called the Alice Gun, and her oversized signature is scrawled across the turret.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson


Enlisted sailors eat near a mural in the dining area of the USS John Finn that commemorates the ship's namesake for his actions during the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Oahu, Thursday, July 13, 2017.

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