In December 1941, John W. Finn was stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. As a chief aviation ordnanceman, he was in charge of twenty men whose primary task was to maintain the weapons of a PBY Catalina flying boat squadron. On the morning of 7 December 1941, Finn was at his home, about a mile from the aircraft hangars, when he heard the sound of gunfire. Finn recalled how a neighbor was the first to alert him, when she knocked on his door saying, "They want you down at the squadron right away!" He drove to the hangars, catching sight of Japanese planes in the sky on the way, and found that the airbase was being attacked, with most of the PBYs already on fire.
Finn's men were trying to fight back by using the machine guns mounted in the PBYs, either by firing from inside the flaming planes or by detaching the guns and mounting them on improvised stands. Finn later explained that one of the first things he did was take control of a machine gun from his squadron's painter. "I said, 'Alex, let me take that gun' ... knew that I had more experience firing a machine gun than a painter."
Finding a movable tripod platform used for gunnery training, Finn attached a Browning .50 caliber machine gun and pushed the platform into an open area, from which he had a clear view of the attacking aircraft. He fired on the Japanese planes for the next two hours, even after being seriously wounded, until the attack had ended. In total, he received 21 distinct wounds, including a bullet through his right foot and an injury to his left shoulder, which caused him to lose feeling in his left arm. "I got that gun and I started shooting at Jap planes," Finn said in a 2009 interview. "I was out there shooting the Jap planes and just every so often I was a target for some," he said, "In some cases, I could see their (the Japanese pilots') faces."
Despite his wounds, Finn returned to the hangars later that day. After receiving medical treatment, he helped arm the surviving American planes. His actions earned him the first Medal of Honor to be awarded in World War II. He was formally presented with the decoration on 14 September 1942, by Admiral Chester Nimitz, for courage and valor beyond the call of duty. The ceremony took place in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Enterprise (CV-6).
Jim Laurier's painting depicts Medal of Honor recipient John W. Finn shooting down a Mitsubishi "Zero" flown Lt. Fusata Iida. Lt. Iida, realizing he would not make it back to the Soryu, attempted to crash his aircraft into a hangar, narrowly missing the hangar and crashing behind it near the officer's barracks. The only documented Japanese aircraft, known to have crashed at Kanehoe Naval Air Station (NAS) on 7 December 1941, was the Mitsubishi Reisen flown by Soryu pilot Lt. Fusata IIDA.
Finn almost certainly accounted for the loss of at least some the the other 28 Japanese aircraft downed that day, as several were seen heading away streaming either smoke or fuel.