SAN DIEGO — Retired Navy Lt. John Finn — the first American to receive the nation's highest military award for defending sailors under a torrent of gunfire during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — died Thursday. He was 100.
Mr. Finn was the oldest of 97 Medal of Honor recipients from World War II still living. He died at a nursing home for veterans in Chula Vista, outside San Diego, according to a Navy statement.
Despite head wounds and other injuries, Mr. Finn, chief of ordnance for an air squadron, continuously fired a .50-caliber machine gun from an exposed position as bullets and bombs pounded the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay in Oahu. He then supervised the rearming of returning American planes.
"Here they're paying you for doing your duty, and that's what I did," Mr. Finn said before his 100th birthday. "I never intended to be a hero. But on Dec. 7, by God, we're in a war."
President Barack Obama said "his modesty does not diminish his extraordinary conduct or the incredible example he has set for our men and women in uniform and for all Americans."
Mr. Finn enlisted in the Navy just before his 17th birthday. He retired in 1956 after three decades of service, but he continued to help young sailors and stayed active in Navy organizations, Lt. Aaron Kakiel said.