Local WWII veteran celebrates his 100th birthday

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John Finn of Birch Bay celebrates his 100th birthday on Thursday, August 20. He was born in 1920 in a small Michigan town and grew up to live an exciting and adventurous life. Now 100 years later, Finn reflected on his life accomplishments.

As a young adult Finn worked in the employment department for a Ford manufacturing plant that built military tanks. Soon after, at age 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served for three years in WWII. He attended boot camp for two months in New York, then placed 13 out of a class of 450 in advanced seamanship school. After that, he was assigned to an icebreaker ship in New York Harbor. The ship would break the frozen water near the harbor, making a safe passage for other ships with wooden hulls. Finn said this was the beginning of his boating career and love for the sea.

Finn was later assigned to FS-268, an army freight supply ship stationed in the South Pacific, and was responsible for transporting supplies to all branches of service. It was a small ship, an “island hopper” so small the enemies didn’t want to waste a torpedo on it, Finn said. He worked his way through different positions, the highest being duty officer, making him in charge of the safety of the ship and crew.

“I was just a kid from a little town of 14,000 people going around the world,” Finn said of his travels.

When the war ended, Finn enrolled at the University of Michigan just 24 days after his return. He studied engineering and business administration, earning a degree in the latter.

Finn then went into a lifelong career at Pittsburgh Corning, a company that manufactured insulation. He worked in sales promotion and marketing management, working with distributors that ordered products from the plant. Like in the military, Finn worked his way up the chain of command and was at one time the marketing manager for all of Canada.

Throughout his life, Finn said he has lived in 28 different places, one of which was Vancouver, where he moved after retirement. He lost his first wife to cancer and met his current wife, Barbara, while living in Vancouver in 1993.

Finn also bought a sailboat after his retirement and moored it in Blaine, until he and Barbara moved to Birch Bay Village. The two took many sailing trips along the San Juans and into some Canadian islands.

“I was not a sailor when I met John, but I soon learned to be one,” Barbara said. “Of course I was so comfortable with John because he was a water man.”

Finn said Barbara picked their lot in Birch Bay Village while he drew the plans and built about a third of the house himself, completely customized for retirement. With a view of the ocean, the two said they have been comfortable staying inside during the pandemic. Neighbors supply them with groceries each week, Barbara gardens and cooks and Finn exercises every day on a rowing machine.

To celebrate his 100th birthday, Finn had one party in March at the couple’s condo in Palm Springs, complete with a cake depicting his beloved FS-268. He planned to go golfing on his actual birthday and celebrate again with family in Canada once the border re-opens.

“Well it’s another day but it’s kind of exciting because a lot of people are making something of it,” Finn said. “So I’m pretty well partied out.”

Finn, whose mother lived to be 105, had some advice for the younger generation and seniors alike: Be focused, have energy and a good attitude, do the right thing, help others and educate yourself all throughout life.

“Don’t concern yourself with the things that you can’t do, but enjoy the things that you can do,” Finn concluded.

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