Today in San Diego, Medal of Honor recipient John Finn will be celebrating his birthday. His is quite a story. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1926 -- in other words, he enlisted in the Navy 83 years ago. This birthday will be No. 100.
It was on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was awakened by very loud airplane noises. He was in bed in brand-new Navy quarters at Kaneohe Naval Station on the island of Oahu. He rushed to the window and observed low-flying aircraft with large red circles on their wings. Unlike many who thought the aircraft were American planes engaged in some sort of exercise, he knew exactly what was happening. He had seen it all before.
IN 1937, FINN was on a Navy ship outside the harbor of Shanghai when the Japanese shelled the city and commenced an invasion of mainland China. As the Japanese continued their conquests in Asia in the late 1930s, John felt that one day America would be attacked. How right he was! It was on that memorable Sunday morning four years later that Chief Petty Officer John Finn earned the Medal of Honor.
He jumped in his car and raced to the flight line. He ran into a burning hangar, grabbed a 50-caliber machine gun from one of the aircraft he was responsible for and ran outside. He set up the machine gun on a maintenance stand and started firing at the incoming Japanese aircraft that were shooting up the flight line.
Very soon his fire got the attention of the Japanese fighters; he then became the focus of their attacks. He was wounded more than 20 times, mostly in the legs, but refused to leave his firing position until after the attack was over. Only then did receive medical care. Finn is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Pearl Harbor attack.
Last year I was with John Finn in New York City. On a long bus ride he shared his experiences that day with me. When our bus ride in New York was over, John and I walked to our hotel. He walks with two canes and he apologized for walking so slowly -- he told me he still had some Japanese shrapnel in his legs.
If you want to learn more about John Finn, I recommend the book Medal of Honor by Peter Collier. Be sure to get the second edition of this best-selling book since a DVD is included. Hence you can not only read about Finn's life story but you can watch a 10-minute video vignette in which he is interviewed, and pictures of the Japanese attack are shown.
As we look to the future here in Augusta, there are two upcoming events at which Medal of Honor recipients will be honored.
FROM OCT. 2-4, The Jimmie Dyess Days will be at Fort Gordon. More than 2,000 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts will assemble for the biggest Scout Jamboree to be held in the CSRA in many years. Like John Finn, Jimmie Dyess was born 100 years ago and, like Finn, Dyess earned the Medal of Honor in the Pacific during World War II. Dyess was active in the Boy Scouts here in Augusta, and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Another series of events honoring a Medal of Honor recipient will take place in mid-November. Jack Jacobs, who earned his Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, will be in Augusta for three days. The main event will be the Boy Scout dinner on the evening of Nov. 13 at St. Paul's River Room (call the Boy Scouts -- (706) 733-5277 -- to get details and to make reservations).
Jacobs also will be speaking to 1,000 soldiers at Fort Gordon on Nov. 13; to a Veterans Day event at Savannah River Site on Nov. 12; to the Exchange Club of Augusta on Nov. 12; and to a gathering of Eagle Scouts on Nov. 14. He will be signing and personalizing copies of his new book If Not Now, When? wherever he speaks. I have read the book twice, and I heartily recommend it. Without one word of profanity, it is suitable for readers of all ages.
Back to John Finn. I had hoped to have John visit Augusta so that many in the CSRA could meet his remarkable man. However, his health is quite delicate, and his fellow recipients are very careful not to tire him out with too much travel. He will be celebrating his birthday near his home in San Diego with the Navy friends he served with so many years ago.
Today I will count my blessings, as I do so often, that I have had the honor of knowing John Finn, Jack Jacobs and many more of our 97 living Medal of Honor recipients.
(The writer, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, is the secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. His wife, Connor Dyess Smith, is the daughter of Jimmie Dyess. She was 8 when her father was killed in the battle for the Marshall Islands in February 1944.)