Remember them one, remember them all Pearl Harbor 2015

December 6, 2015

Tomorrow’s weather forecast for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7th, 2015, calls for mostly sunny skies, high of 83F, with easterly winds at a gentle 5 to 10 mph.   Sunrise at 6:57am, sunset at 5:50pm.  An almost identical forecast to the one far less sophisticated meteorologists distributed 74 years ago.

But what the forecasters of December 6th, 1941 could never have foreseen was that there would be no sunset the next day.  Not in any normal sense anyway.  While the sun most assuredly did slip below the vastness of the Pacific horizon on that night of December 7th, 1941 no one was watching.  And even if they were, they wouldn’t have noticed.  The fires burning across the harbor kept the night sky lit well into sunrise the next morning.

The next day President Franklin Roosevelt would deliver his “Day of Infamy” speech, Congress would respond with a formal declaration of war within the hour , and for the next 3 years, 8 months and 25 days Americans of every walk of life would dedicate themselves to Roosevelt’s call to “make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.” and that “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”

Of the over 470 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded over the course of the war, 15 of them were awarded that first day.  Sadly, over half were awarded posthumously with only 6 recipients surviving the day to receive their medal.  And of those 15, only 1 would be awarded for actual combat.  That singularity went to Chief Petty Officer John Finn who’s Sunday morning with his wife was abruptly interrupted by planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the sound of machine gun fire coming from the hanger at the Kaneohe Bay air station.

Immediately upon arrival, Finn set up a .50 caliber machine gun on an instruction platform and would spend the next two hours giving what he called a “warm welcome” to strafing Japanese planes.  He had numerous wounds but only after being specifically ordered to did he leave for first aide treatment.  But after a brief “patching up”, Chief Finn returned to the squadron area where he would spend the rest of the day supervising installation of  impromptu machine gun pits in defensive positions around the base.

As night fell, Finn remained on duty to oversee the securing of the only surviving aircraft on base, 3 returning PBY patrol planes.  Only after being ordered for a second time to seek medical attention did Chief Finn finally relent.  It was 2 a.m. Monday morning, 18 hours since he’d set up his makeshift tripod and fired his first “greeting” at the attacking Japanese.

But with the aid station already full with what Finn deemed men more seriously wounded, he instead went home to check on his wife, finally reporting for treatment the morning of December 8th.  He was immediately hospitalized and remained there until Christmas Eve.

Finn would survive the war and spend another 25 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of lieutenant in 1956.  A testament to his stamina he displayed that awful Sunday so many years ago, he remained with us until May 27th, 2010 when he passed away at the life well lived age of 100.

Estimates now put the number of survivors still with us at less than the over 2400 who died on the day of the attack.  And while we cannot stop the day from coming when we will read of the last to leave us, we can ensure that the day will never come when who they were and what they did is ever forgotten.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  An edited version of this column first appeared in the December 6, 2015 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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