John Finn and his 1938 Ford
On December 7, 1941, Finn was stationed at the Kaneohe Naval Air Station in Hawaii. Awakened by the first wave of attacking Japanese planes, Finn ran to his 1938 Ford and drove to his duty station as the Japanese commenced their strafing runs. He manned a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand throughout the attack, and was wounded more than 20 times. During the attack, all the hangars at the airfield were badly damaged or destroyed, and the aircraft around him were turned into piles of twisted metal. By some twist of fate, his 1938 Ford was undamaged. It is the only known privately owned vehicle ever to be driven to a battle at which the driver earned the Medal of Honor.
For many years the car languished on Finn's ranch, some 75 miles east of San Diego. Saratoga Museum president Frank Lennon recognized the historical value of the car when he visited Finn, and convinced the former Saratoga sailor to donate what remained to the Museum. The chassis, fenders, hood, license plates, registration and other surviving parts of the car were trucked to Rhode Island to await restoration.
"From the beginning, the idea was to have John Finn riding in his car in the nation's oldest 4th of July parade," said Lennon. "Our goal was not restoration to classic collector status-just to bring it back to a representation of what a three-year old car might have looked like in 1941, with normal wear and tear."
Realizing that many additional parts would be needed to restore the 1938 Ford to running condition, Saratoga officials decided the most efficient solution would be to locate an identical car and merge the two. After two years of searching, Lennon found the car he needed on eBay; it was for sale in Pennsylvania.
Seeking immediate financial help to buy the second car, he turned to Malcolm and Christina McGuire of East Greenwich, who have have been involved with a number of initiatives relating to the Medal of Honor. (They supplied every high school in the state with a copy of a book detailing the exploits of Medal of Honor recipients, for example.) The McGuires immediately responded by donating enough money to purchase the car and bring it back to Rhode Island.
Museum leadership first approached several Ford dealerships (as well as Ford corporate) with the refurbishment proposal. Finding no takers, Lennon turned to Ron Fiore of Fiore Pontiac GMC Volkswagen, who immediately saw the merit to the project.
Realizing that a complete restoration of the original chassis would take a long time, museum officials re-evaluated the plan.
"We wanted to avoid the trap of paying too much attention to the car and not enough to the man," said Lennon. "John Finn is 97 years old; how many more 4th of July parade opportunities will there be for him?"
So the plan was reversed to make sure Finn could participate in this year's parade. The Pennsylvania car has been refinished, using some pieces of Finn's original vehicle, and painted its original Washington Blue color.
As time and funding allow, more and more of the original car will be incorporated into the museum piece---but for this year's Bristol parade, John Finn will proudly lead the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation contingent in a 1938 Ford Deluxe Sedan.
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