The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 4 - November 9, 2011


Destination: TARAWA


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Holmes Beach resident Jim Finn, pictured as a young
Marine in World War II, may make an Honor
Flight to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial.

HOLMES BEACH – Jim Finn was 17 when he convinced his mother to sign the papers letting him join the U.S. Marine Corps.

It was 1943. He would have joined up right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but he was only 15 at the time.

After basic training at Parris Island, S.C., the Corps taught him how to fix amphibious tractors, tanks and trucks at Camp Lejuene, N.C. and Canton, Ohio, then sent him to California, where he set sail for New Zealand and joined the Second Marine Division.

Soon, Finn was in the fight.

The division sailed for the Pacific, getting secret orders on the way, transmitted on a modified clothesline from a ship traveling next to theirs.

Destination: Tarawa.

The Japanese had an air strip on the small Pacific island.

"They were well fortified, and we were the only Marine division going in there," Finn recalled. "That was the bloodiest one."

When the three-day battle was over, they had taken the island. Nine hundred and ninety-seven Marines were dead, along with 4,690 Japanese – out of an enemy force of 4,836.

Marines say the Corps "paid the stiffest price in human life per square yard" at Tarawa than any other engagement in Marine Corps history.

In 1944, a 20-minute documentary filmed during the battle was produced, with footage so graphic that President Franklin Roosevelt had to grant permission for its release (view the Oscar-winning film, "With the Marines at Tarawa" at

The division left for Hawaii, then Saipan, then Okinawa, where they fought and won another infamous battle, one which took the life of U.S. war correspondent Ernie Pyle, and was the subject of several Hollywood films.

The division was assigned to occupy Nagasaki one month after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the city.

"It was like a hurricane. Everything was gone," Finn said.

The bomb ended the war in the Pacific, and Finn came home.

Honor flight

Now, in a gesture of appreciation for his service, the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island has asked the Holmes Beach resident to apply for its Honor Flight program.

Since 2005, the project has taken over 63,000 World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. for one-day, all-expense-paid trips that include visits to the World War II Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Volunteer Rotarian guardians accompany the veterans at their own expense.

The Island Rotary Club is joining with 52 Southwest Florida Rotary Clubs to organize a trip from Fort Myers to Washington, D.C., in June 2012 for 70 World War II veterans, said Barry Gould of the Island Rotary Club, who suggested that Finn apply to the program.

Finn said that he has long wanted to visit the World War II Memorial, but health problems have prevented him from going on overnight trips.

The one-day Honor Flight trip would be manageable, he said. And while his grandson, who works in the city, has sent him a photo of the memorial, it would be nice to see it in person.

If you would like to contribute to the Honor Flight fund, visit

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