Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pearl Harbor & Sands Islands: Two Hero Tales

That fighting spirit ...
Lt. John Finn, c. 1941
Of all the Medal of Honor recipients from the attack on Pearl Harbor, John William Finn held a unique distinction. Until May of 2010, he was the oldest surviving Medal of Honor recipient. 

Finn also was quite a character. Born in California in 1909, Finn dropped out of high school at 17 in order to join the US Navy. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Finn had been in the service for 15 years. 

At the time of the bombing, Finn and his wife were sound asleep. But when he heard the buzz of planes, he woke up. At first, he saw something fly by his window and then he heard the machine guns. At that point, Finn didn't wait to hear or see anything more but drove to a hangar, grabbed a machine gun, set up on a hill, and started shooting.

For two and a half hours, Finn shot at the invading planes with a .30 caliber machine gun. By the end of the attack, he had been hit "28 or 29" times. His body was torn from bullets and schrapnel. He was shot in the hand and shot in the foot. 

Finn, however, was not done fighting. He got bandaged up and then went back to see if there would be a second attack. He didn't get to a hospital until the afternoon of December 8. [Author's note: Mrs. Finn may well have been a motivating force for that particular visit.]

To read the citation for John Finn's Medal of Honor, click here.

Here is a US Navy video detailing the attack on Pearl Harbor. It includes actual film of the attack:

At Sand Island on Dec. 7, 1941 ...

First Lt. George Cannon, c. 1941
Out on Sand Island in the Midway Islands, a chain of tiny points of land and volcano tips in the Pacific that stretch into to the Hawaiian Islands, the United States Marine's had deployed Battery H of the Sixth Defense Battalion. As of September, 1941, Battery H on Sand Island, Midways had a new commander, First Lt. George Cannon.

George Cannon's sense of duty is clear from the barest outlines of his history. Born in Webster Groves, Missouri, Cannon joined the ROTC at the University of Michigan. In 1938, he made the rank of First Lieutenant in the US Army before resigning that post in order to join the Marines at the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1939.

By the time Cannon arrived on the Midway Islands in September, 1941, he had been promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps for barely a month. When Sand was bombed as an ancillary act to the main attack on Pearl Harbor, Cannon was wounded but refused to leave his post. What he did do, however, was to make sure his men were evacuated. For these actions, First Lieutenant George Cannon was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. In 1943, the USS Cannon (1943-1944) was named in his honor.

To learn more about Lt. George Cannon, go to this link at the Naval Historical Center.

A great resource from the US Navy with oral histories, photographs and even film from the Pearl Harbor attack can be found here.  

The US Navy's website at http://1.usa.gov/11GHCt is a great resource for additional information, including the names and the citation details for the medal recipients from Pearl Harbor. 

Remember to fly the flag at half-staff for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7. If you are not sure how or when to fly a flag at half-staff? Click here to find out. USFlagstore.com's facts come from the US Flag Code.

Let it fly!
If you have a hero's story to share, we encourage you to share the history.

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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