IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. — Four brothers from Sagola served their country during World War II both on the battle field and on the home front.
Donald, James, Richard, and Robert Finn grew up in Sagola around the time of the Great Depression.
“Sagola was a typical saw mill town with a general store, post office, community building, two churches, doctor’s office, school, two taverns, and many, many loving and caring people,” Donald told The Daily News of Iron Mountain.
Due to their father’s job at the saw mill, the brothers were able to weather the Great Depression. It was not until 1938, when the saw mill closed, that the family saw some tough times.
After graduating from Channing High School in 1941, Donald found a job in the Detroit area. James, who was two years younger, had to lie about his age in order to get a job to support his family. The two brothers soon found themselves working together when they decided to seek employment at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie with their father.
Donald and James received their draft notices in 1942, about eight months after the United States entered World War II. At the time, Donald was 19 and James was 17.
Although the brothers were both bound for the Navy, they were to board different ships – Donald on the USS Wasp and James on the USS Belle Grove.
“I was one of the first groups of sailors to set foot aboard this ship and it was a beauty,” Donald said of the USS Wasp.
His first voyage was to the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. After that, he was on his way to the Pacific front, where he would spend the next couple of years.
Donald saw his very first battle engagement at Saipan Island.
“One kamikaze pilot came barreling right toward my gun mount so close I could see his white silk garb they wore and I swear he was smiling so we opened up with everything we had and we got him, but he managed to let a bomb loose that hit the anchor and broke the anchor chain,” he said. “That was the only damage, but it was too close for comfort.”
Several battles later, while fighting in the Philippines, Donald saw a Japanese bomber drop a bomb on the ship’s flight deck. The blast instantly killed 125 sailors who were in the mess hall below.
“The bombing I could handle, but what really tore me apart is what we had to do next, bury our shipmates at sea – a mass burial,” said Donald. “Here we are burying 125 of our shipmates, guys that I played cards with and went on liberty with.”
The battered USS Wasp was then escorted to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was there that Donald finally met up with James, who had been spending his time on the USS Belle Grove participating in invasions throughout the Pacific.
“After being in the same convoy for close to three years, we finally met face to face,” Donald recalled. “It was a pleasant visit. Here’s two young kids from Sagola meeting in Pearl Harbor.”
Both brothers were discharged from the Navy in 1946.
“I fought for this country during World War II and have no regrets because I thought it was a great country to fight for,” Donald added. “And if I could, I would fight for this country again because I still think it’s a great country.”
The two younger Finn brothers, Richard and Robert, may not have been old enough to serve in the armed forces during World War II, but they did their part at home.
Richard said that when they found out that that scrap metal was wanted to make guns, ships, and ammunition for the war, they got busy collecting.
“We made a make-shift wagon and scoured the neighborhood farms and gathered quite a pile of scrap,” Richard explained. “We were proud.”
Later on, the younger brothers supported the war effort by buying war bond stamps.
Richard noted that he was surprised that his older brothers did not talk much about the war once they returned home.
“We were excited to hear some war stories, but they said very little,” he said.
Richard and Robert would go on to serve their country during the Korean War. Richard followed in his brothers’ footsteps by joining the Navy, while Robert entered the Army.
Richard pointed out that the wars he and his brothers fought were different from more recent wars.
“No, you vets from Afghanistan and Iraq are not one bit different (from us), but what is different is the type of war you fought,” he said. “You knew you were fighting terrorists, but who are they? They don’t wear uniforms and they don’t carry their country’s flag.”
Richard said that he would like all veterans who are having trouble adjusting to civilian life to seek help.
“We have a very fine VA Medical Center here in Iron Mountain staffed with specially trained doctors and nurses and the very best rehabilitation program that will get you on the road to recovery,” he said.
Donald, Richard, and Robert still live in the Iron Mountain area. James lives near Little Rock, Ark.