On 7. December 1941 were in the attack on Pearl Harbor 2. 403 people killed and over a thousand more injured. The attack, a surprise military strike by the Japanese Imperial Navy against the United States, was a massive shock to the American people and sparked America’s entry into World War II.
The United States bought Japan on Aug.. December declared war. On this 75th. On the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we remember the lost and the Irish who were stationed at the Hawaiian naval base that day. In particular, we remember two Irish heroes, John William Finn and Frank Flaherty, who both received the Medal of Congressional Honor for their bravery and valor during the attack.
What makes Pearl Harbor so different from other American battlefields is that it is not a field to start with.
But it not only has to do with the fact that the central center of the Japanese attack 75 years ago was a body of water today, but also with what that water contains.
Water to cover a grave lacks the sense of solidity that earth gives, and that feeling is reinforced by the fact that the most sacred of the graves is Pearl Harbor – that of those who died aboard the battleship Arizona – The water is shallow and the ship can still be seen under certain conditions.
Additionally, oil is still leaking in Arizona, as this writer witnessed on two visits to Pearl Harbor, one in the 1990s and the second in 2008. And the leakage continues to this day at a rate of two to nine quarts a day, depending on the conditions.
So this is a battlefield where the effects of combat have not worn off over time.
This also applies to the pictures and memories from 7. December 1941, the date destined to live in shame. ‘
Two thousand four hundred three Americans died that day. More than a thousand others were wounded. Quite a few of the dead were Irish Americans.
Two Irish Americans secured the opposite of shame by winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. They were John William Finn, who survived the attack, and Frank C. . Flaherty who didn’t.
Finn, an aviation chief stationed in Kaneohe Bay, earned his medal by manning a machine gun from an exposed position throughout the attack, despite being repeatedly wounded.
Like almost everyone else on Oahu that day, Finn was released from the sleepier duties of a Sunday.
He ran to a mounted gun and started shooting enemy planes. Two hours later, he had twenty-one splinter wounds and a record of exploits that earned him the first World War II Medal of Honor.
He was born on 24. Born July 1909 in Los Angeles. His paternal grandparents were immigrants from Co. . Galway, Ireland.
His father supported the family as a shipping clerk in a machine company and later as a plumber. Young John left school to work when he was eleven. In 1926, at the age of seventeen, Finn joined the Navy. He looked so young that his mother had to escort him to the recruiting station to check his age.
Finn’s lack of formal training did not hold him back in the Navy and by 1935 he had been promoted to chief petty officer. Six years later, in December 1941, he was in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, as Navy Aviation’s chief ammunition officer.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and other military facilities on Oahu began a few minutes before 8 a.m.. m. and completely surprised the American armed forces.
The Pacific fleet was a sitting duck and the Japanese pilots took full advantage. The Americans who could finally resisted. By the time John Finn got to his base it was too late to launch any Navy pilots (their planes were on fire) so he ran to a mount . 50 caliber machine gun and started shooting.
Its location was fully exposed and soon came under fire. Despite numerous splinter wounds, Finn continued the fight. « I just kept shooting, » he later said in an interview, « because I wasn’t dead. ”
« I’m not sure I shot down a plane, but I can credit it for shooting every plane I can lean on. « . ”
Two hours later, Finn received medical treatment for his wounds and learned the terrible details of the attack.
Eighteen ships, including all eight battleships in the Pacific Fleet, were sunk or badly damaged. Over 350 aircraft, most of them still on the ground, were destroyed.
Nine months later, Finn (now an ensign) received the Medal of Honor from Admiral Chester Nimitz on board the USS Enterprise. The official quote reads in full:
“Excellent service and dedication beyond duty for exceptional heroism. During the first attack by Japanese planes on Naval Air Station in Kaneohe Bay on Jan.. December 1941 Lt. . Finn immediately secured and occupied a . 50 caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction booth in a fully exposed section of the parking ramp that was under heavy enemy machine gun fire. Although he was painfully wounded many times, he continued to manned this weapon and returned fire from the enemy vigorously and with significant effect during the enemy punitive and bombing raids and in complete disregard for his own personal safety. Only on special orders was he persuaded to leave his post to see a doctor. After the first aid treatment, although he was obviously in great pain and had difficulty moving, he returned to the squadron and actively monitored the arming of the returning aircraft. His extraordinary heroism and behavior in this action corresponded to the highest traditions of the U. . S.. . Sea service. ”
Finn remained in the Navy for the duration of the war and remained in the Navy Reserves after 1947. He retired as a lieutenant in 1956 (at the age of 47).
For the next several decades, he ran a repair shop in San Diego and then ran a 92-acre ranch 70 miles outside of San Diego that he and his wife Alice bought in the late 1950s.
He was very patriotic and proud of his Irish heritage. He attended World War II memorial services and for many years was a spokesman for causes such as the campaign to raise funds to secure and preserve the USS Arizona Memorial.
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While John Finn faced the enemy and survived that day, so long ago and yet so alive, Frank Flaherty was not alive.
And his bravery was shown not with the hands of a machine gun, but with a flashlight.
Pearl Harbor has seen many extraordinary exploits performed in a variety of ways.
Flaherty, who was from Charlotte, MI and was an ensign at the time of the attack, was aboard the USS Oklahoma.
Flaherty’s Medal of Honor reads in part: « For extraordinary dedication to duty and extraordinary courage and complete disregard for his own life …. When it was discovered that the USS Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon the ship, Ensign Flaherty stayed in the tower, holding a flashlight so the rest of the tower crew could see how he escaped, and sacrificed in the process his own life. ”
Four hundred and twenty-nine men, including Flaherty, were buried in Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma, after the big ship was overrun.
The ship was salvaged in 1943, and the remains inside were eventually buried in mass graves marked « Unknown » in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
In 1943 a destroyer named Flaherty was commissioned to serve for the duration of the war.
Flaherty’s name is on the Courts of Missing Persons at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and a tombstone for a memorial was laid in Maple Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Michigan.
Together with all other heroes from 7. December 1941 he was 76. Anniversary will be particularly remembered.
* Originally published in the Irish Echo in 2016. You can read more of their stories here.
Attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
World news – USA – Irish heroes from Pearl Harbor are remembered
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