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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In my line of work I've been blessed to have met many important persons. Working the occasional dignitary protection detail and working with the Police Association, I've been fortunate enough to have met Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senators, a First Lady, Congressmen and Governors. None of them have ever made the impact upon me that John Finn did. I can hear many of you asking yourselves now, who in the hell is John Finn. Well sports fans, in the words of renowned Reno Police Detective Jay Brown, "John Finn is a national treasure."

You see, on a bright Sunday morning, in December 1941, when he should have been enjoying a leisurely breakfast with his wife, John Finn was instead thrust into World War II. And what an entrance he made. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had just begun and John Finn left his home, driving like a madman to reach his station at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, Territory of Hawaii that morning and once there, he manned a .50 cal machine gun in a completely exposed portion of the seaplane parking ramp. How exposed? Exposed enough that he was wounded 22 times from Japanese strafing attacks and shrapnel from bomb bursts. John Finn could have quit and sought first aid. No one would have blamed him. Instead he continued to man his post until the Japanese attack was over and he was ordered to seek medical attention. His actions are credited with downing at least one Japanese plane that morning but he downplays his shooting skills, claiming he's not so sure he shot anything down. Still not ready to quit, he got himself bandaged up and then proceeded to his aircraft hangar to initiate salvage operations and organize defenses for potential further raids. For his actions that morning, John Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded for valor. You can read his official citation here.

John Finn came to Nevada last week for a military veterans convention, and he was escorted by an honor guard of about 50 local law enforcement officers who met him as he deplaned in Reno. The gathering was largely the work of the Transportation Security Administration and the Reno Police Honor Guard who made the effort to alert local media about a national treasure coming to River City and who also notified local law enforcement agencies. Since I happen to work in a unit with members of the Honor Guard, I had access to the information and planning that went on and which included organization of a Reno Police Motorcyle Escort from the airport to the hotel for Mr. Finn. All of the officers volunteered to be there, putting aside other duties or giving up their personal time.

The officers who went to the airport formed two ranks on either side of the airport gate and rendered a snap salute as Mr. Finn passed us, smiling and returning our salute. The crowd at the gate broke out in a cheer and applause. Mr. Finn was then met by local media and he gave an interview that shows what kind of straight shooter he is. The type of interview that gets heavily edited in this politically correct era. The type of interview you'll never see on the evening news. When asked by a reporter what he first remembers about that Sunday, December 7, 1941, Finn replied "I remember waking up in bed with a beautiful blonde!" (The blonde was his wife Alice) When the reporter asked Finn what he had done to be awarded the nation's highest military honor, he said simply that "I didn't have the good sense to come in out of the rain, the damn Japs were bombing our base and I was angry and I got paid to fight!" When asked about his wounds, Finn said, "I wasn't hurt so bad, the guys that were hurt bad were dead, I was still moving so I knew I wasn't hurt bad!"

(Finn's wounds required a month's worth of convalescence at the hospital after the attack so these wounds were not of the John Kerry variety.)

Did I mention that John Finn is 98 years old? He is the nation's oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor. When we arrived at the airport to escort him, many people in the terminal and gate areas were initially very nervous seeing so many police around. Some asked what was going on and when we explained to them that we were there to honor the man who is a national treasure, the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor they quickly broke out their cameras. Escorting John Finn through the airport was an absolute thrill. The shouts and applause for this man and many photos taken reminded me that there are those in America still ready to honor a hero, and who still believe in the greatness of this nation, especially here in flyover country. People were coming up just to shake his hand, to touch him, to connect to history through him. As he addressed the crowd, I'm not ashamed to say that a tear or two came cascading down my cheek. And I wasn't the only cop there running the waterworks. I'm one of those guys who chokes up at history. I once stood with a Texan on the battlefield at Chancellorsville, at the spot where Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson last met. We stood there and cried like babies for several long minutes, too caught up in the history of the spot to care who saw us. It was just like that meeting John Finn.

Sure, I may meet a few more dignitaries in my career, but none of them will have the dignity of John Finn nor will any of them make the impression on me that he did. I was able to salute and thank a man who did more for his country in two hours, over 65 years ago, than the entire Congress has done in the past 60 years. I pray to God that John Finn can come to Reno again next year, because I can assure you that if he does, we'll have even more officers there to pay him our respects. It was my very great honor and privilege to have met this gentleman last Thursday and I owe that honor to the Transportation Security Administration. It is fashionable to bash these folks, most of whom are just like you and me, working hard to do their job, which happens to be protecting us. It was TSA officials who let us know that John Finn was coming to Reno. Without that advance notice, we could not have arranged the reception for him that we did. So I want to publicly thank the TSA and especially Jim Deal who gave us the heads up.

Smilin' Paul Villa U.S. Senate 2010
cyber-Congressman, R-Reno
Proud Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and 2 SUV Family


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great editoral of "Our Nations Hero". Thank you for your kind and honest comments and observations of John Finn. You are correct, he does leave a lasting impression to any who take the time to meet this "Gentleman". I also was in Reno attending the AO Symposium and Convention and never miss the opportunity to renew friendships of John from previous years. Once he has met you, he will never forget you even at his age, he will pick up the conversation started last year; or year before that, as if it was there was a brief pause in the conversation at hand. Wish I could accomplish that at my years, many younger than John. You and the Reno area folks at the airport and hotel are to be commended and applauded.
CWO4 Edward C. Scott, USN (RET), Palm Coast, Florida.

25 July, 2007 04:48  
Anonymous Kelley said...

Great work.

10 November, 2008 14:25  

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