If a Navy rating could have an official saint, there’s little question who would be bestowed with that honor for Aviation Ordnanceman (AO): Lieutenant John William Finn.

Fittingly, Finn enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July of 1926—the same year that Aviation Ordnanceman was established as a rating within the Aviation Branch at all four petty officer grades. After completing General Aviation Utilities Training in Illinois at Naval Station Great Lakes, he was assigned to Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island in San Diego in 1927, where he first worked in aircraft repair before he transitioned into repair and maintenance of anti-aircraft guns as an Aviation Ordnanceman (AOM).

After just nine years of active-duty service, Finn had been promoted to Chief Petty Officer—the highest rate (E7) that could be achieved by an enlisted sailor at the time (1935). Over the next five years, Finn would serve with patrol squadrons deployed in the U.S. and Panama.

But like so many sailors, Finn’s life would change dramatically as the country headed into the last month of 1941.

Stationed at NAS Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Finn was in charge of AOs tasked with the maintenance of the weapons mounted on the PBY Catalinas comprising VP-11 (VP was the designation for Patrol Squadron). Awakened on that fateful Sunday morning by the sound of machine-gun fire coming from the direction of the airfield just a quarter-mile from his home, Finn was told by a neighbor that “they want you at the hangar.” Speeding toward the hangar, Finn saw low-flying Japanese Zeros headed toward the hangars for strafing runs.

Finn’s blood was boiling in anger at the brazen sneak attack—and he wasted no time in finding a way to fight back. Grabbing a .50-caliber machine gun from one of the PBYs, Finn mounted it on a portable tripod platform normally used for gunnery practice and placed it in an open area where he could draw a bead on the incoming Japanese planes. Finn opened fire on the incoming enemies and kept it up for two hours, and while his position gave him an excellent line of sight on the Japanese planes, it also meant they had a clear LOS on him: he suffered 21 distinct wound by the time the attack began to subside. Instead of seeking medical attention, however, Finn helped set up machine-gun pits equipped with .50-caliber and .30-caliber guns taken from the now-wrecked PBY squadron.

For his selfless actions and a display of courage and valor beyond the call of duty, Chief John William Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by Admiral Chester Nimitz in a ceremony held aboard the USS Enterprise on September 14, 1942. Finn, who lived to the age of 100 before passing away on May 27, 2010, was also honored by having a ferry boat used to take visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial named after him. And in February, 2012, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer would be named in his honor; the USS John Finn was launched on May 2, 1015.

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