Ship's name honors Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor recipient

John Finn, center, is applauded by fellow Medal of Honor recipients Roger Donlon, left, and Bernard Fisher as he's introduced by Gary Littrell at a 2007 gathering in Washington, D.C.

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: March 21, 2017

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A $2 billion destroyer named after Dec. 7, 1941, hero Chief John Finn will be commissioned July 15 at Pearl Harbor but will be based in San Diego, the Navy said Tuesday.

During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Finn, who was at home about to have coffee with his wife, raced to his squadron location and started firing back with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a tripod on an exposed portion of aircraft parking ramp.

The aviation ordnanceman chief petty officer received 21 shrapnel wounds from the strafing planes but kept firing — leaving only when ordered to receive medical attention. Following first aid, and in obvious pain, he returned to his squadron area to supervise the rearming of returning American planes.

Finn’s bravery earned him the first Medal of Honor of World War II, presented by Adm. Chester Nimitz on Sept. 14, 1942, aboard the USS Enterprise, according to the Navy.

“A lot of men were shot during this time, a lot of shot-up men. I was angry,” Finn would tell a Navy historian many years later.

When the Chula Vista, Calif., man reached the age of 100 in 2010, he was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient. He died in May of that year — the last of the 15 Navy men to earn the distinction during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

“We are all looking forward to the ship’s commissioning July 15 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with some 60 family members and some 40 of Uncle John’s friends and shipmates in attendance,” Finn’s nephew Dennis McAllister said on a Facebook page.

The Honolulu Navy League is planning events, recognition and support for the USS John Finn with a commissioning committee headed by retired Navy Capt. William Kearns.

“We are engaged in community outreach, asking for tax deductible contributions to ensure that the commissioning activities provide a fitting start to the life of this warship,” Jane Ferreira, executive director of the Honolulu Navy League, said in an email.

Retired Adm. Jim Stavridis, former commander of European Command, and his wife, Laura, are expected to be in attendance. Laura Stavridis was the John Finn’s sponsor, smashing a bottle of sparkling wine across the ship’s bow during a christening ceremony on May 2, 2015, in Pascagoula, Miss., in front of nearly 1,000 guests.

Ferreira said Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the Oahu­-based U.S. Pacific Command, will be a keynote speaker.

Huntington Ingalls Industries delivered the John Finn to the Navy on Dec. 7 — the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. The 509-foot ship is the 63rd Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and the first of what’s known as the DDG-51 Flight IIA “restart” ships — so called because the Navy restarted the Arleigh Burke line after the Zumwalt-class of destroyers was stopped at three ships in part due to prohibitive cost.

The John Finn, with hull designation DDG-113, has Aegis Baseline 9 combat system upgrades with an integrated air and missile defense that incorporates ballistic missile defense and advanced anti-air warfare capabilities.

Two other new destroyers with Hawaii ties also are in the works — one to be based in San Diego and the other to be home-ported at Pearl Harbor.

The USS Rafael Peralta, named after a Kaneohe Bay Marine who gave his life in Iraq, will be commissioned in San Diego on July 29 and will be home-ported there, also, the Navy said. The 25-year-old was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

At least four Marines with Peralta on Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah stated in written reports that they saw the short and stocky Marine nicknamed “Rafa” pull a grenade to his body after it had bounced into a room, saving the lives of others.

However, in a later Washington Post story, two of the Marines with Peralta said the extraordinary valor was made up shortly after he was wounded. Peralta posthumously received the Navy Cross.

The destroyer USS Daniel Inouye, meanwhile, named after the powerful U.S. senator and World War II Medal of Honor recipient from Hawaii, is expected to be commissioned in 2018 in Pearl Harbor and home-ported in Hawaii. Inouye died in 2012 at the age of 88.

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Pre-commissioning unit John Finn test fires Phalanx close-in weapons system during builder's trials, Oct. 25, 2016.

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