John Finn- Medal of Honor
Two weeks ago, John Finn, the oldest living U.S. Medal of Honor winner, died at the age of 100. The Cameron-Brooks Team had the great honor of hosting John at the 67th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor in Fredericksburg, TX in December 2008. We flew out to his home near San Diego to get him, spent several days with him in Fredericksburg and returned him home at the end of the events.
Over the course of our time together, we got to know this special man and national treasure. It’s worth it to read his Medal of Honor story which is well documented on line (Google: John Finn).
We want to write about the pieces of advice that John imparted to us during his stay. These are the pearls of wisdom that will stay with us for many years, and the main reason we were so fortunate to get to know him over his brief visit.
He never saw himself as a hero and could not really understand why people “fussed” so much over him. He said several times, “I’m just an old, uneducated man, who was only doing his duty and the job the Navy paid me to do” on the morning the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He said it with a level of authentic humility that is hard to find today. His acts of heroism and resulting fame were never about John Finn. He was incapable of seeing it that way.
He loved telling stories of the past, and John could remember details from his childhood forward with amazing accuracy. He would never answer a question without telling a good story. They were always humorous, and interwoven in the narrative were many rich lessons. Perhaps there is some irony that we are writing about the lost art of story telling in an electronic blog, but John is a good reminder of the importance of telling stories to the next generation the old fashion way (no texting or e-mails).
When asked what he missed the most about the past, he thought about it for several minutes and said that he missed having a beer after work with his shipmates. Friendships become more and more important as we get older, and we will never regret the time invested in important relationships. Given the thousands of friends he had, this was obviously something he had known for a long time.
When asked to share his advice for living until the age of 100, John paused for a long time and finally said, “I guess it helps not taking it all so seriously.” He saw several of his friends die in anger, sadness or fear. He was perpetually optimistic, loved to laugh and tell stories, enjoyed meeting new friends and visiting with old ones, took lots of naps, and worked every day for at least a few hours in his salvage yard. A good recipe for a long and happy life.
When John ate meals, he always ate everything on his plate; or if he became full, he would quietly wrap up the remaining food in a napkin and put it in his coat pocket. He really took his time and never wasted anything. We learned to never rush him through a meal. We also learned to check his pockets at the end of every day because there was no telling what was in there 🙂
No matter how much his 100 year old legs hurt, he always walked up to the podium by himself using his canes. It was very hard to get him in a wheel chair. He even climbed up and down the stairs of our airplane by himself despite his age. John never said it, but I think he was an inspiration to other elderly veterans. If a 100 year old man can walk, so could they. While I was sitting in the audience around many Pearl Harbor survivors, I heard them all pause and say, “Hey look, there’s John Finn.” He was a celebrity, and no matter how bad he felt, he would never miss the many gatherings celebrating America’s military efforts in WW2. Until the last couple of weeks of his life, he dedicated himself to giving back to the country that had been so good to him.
A lot of people sent John gifts- so many that he had trouble finding space for them (a natural consequence of being a National Treasure). We asked him to remember his favorite gift. He quickly said how much he appreciated the Marines at Camp Pendleton sending over a detachment of young Marines to chop wood for him every couple of months. At 100 years old, there is nothing more enjoyable and appreciated than a good warm fire.
It’s fitting that John died around Memorial Day, when we honor all the men and women who have sacrificed so much out of love for this great country. John Finn was a heroic man who loved his country and spent the twilight of his life honoring the memory of those who served. He will be missed by many. Attached is a link to one of our favorite pictures with him. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cameron-Brooks-Junior-Military-Officer-Recruiting-to-Corporate-America/46847108365#!/photo.php?pid=4264672&id=46847108365