World War II's first Medal of Honor recipient (former Navy Chief and Lieutenant) John Finn came to Pearl Harbor Dec. 6, 2009 to ride in a whiteboat named for him. He was 100.
|Ernest Thompson Seton|
Finn said Seton was a great writer who captured his imagination and influenced his love of the West.
Seton had a significant role in the birth of Scouting in the United States. He is the reason there are such strong ties with Scouting and Native American culture.
Recently I read Seton's "The Arctic Prairies: A Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; Being the Account of a Voyage to the Region North of Aylmer," first published in 1911 – when John Finn was nearly two years old – and reprinted in 1917 in the version I held. The subject of the book, the journey itself, started in 1907.
Seton recounts stories, does science experiments, makes sketches of wildlife and narrates the journey to "unbroken forest and prairie leagues." This richly rewarding book follows the six-month journey Seton made with Edward A. Preble.
Preble was a naturalist whose bloodline included a distant great-great-great grandfather, the brother of Commodore Edward Preble, who defeated the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean on orders of President Thomas Jefferson.
It was naturalist Preble who became the center of a campfire Halloween story just as the journey was coming to a close, after various adventures with lynxes, buffaloes, musk-ox, caribou, wolves, bears, coyotes, Arctic foxes and a myriad of birds. Many of the creatures in the cold North were hungry, some dying of starvation in the early winter.
One particular animal became the focus of October 28, leading up to the end of the Seton-Preble journey on Halloween 1907.
"On that same night we had a curious adventure with a weasel. All were sitting around the camp-fire at bed-time, when I heard a distinct patter on the leaves. 'Something coming,' I whispered. All held still, then out of the gloom came bounding a snow-white weasel. Preble was lying on his back with his hands clasped behind his head and the weasel fearlessly jumped on my colleague's broad chest, and stood peering about. In a flash Preble's right elbow was down and held the weasel prisoner, his left hand coming to assist. Now, it is pretty well known that if you and a weasel grab each other at the same time he has choice of holds. 'I have got him,' said Preble, then added feelingly, 'but he got me first. Suffering Moses! The little cuss is grinding his teeth in deeper.' The muffled screaming of the small demon died away as Preble's strong left hand crushed out its life, but as long as there was a spark of it remaining, those desperate jaws were grinding deeper into his thumb. It seemed a remarkably long affair to us, and from time to time, as Preble let off some fierce ejaculation, one of us would ask, 'Hello! Are you two still at it,' or 'How are you and your friend these times, Preble?' In a few minutes it was over, but that creature in his fury seemed to have inspired himself with lock-jaw, for his teeth were so driven in and double-locked, that I had to pry the jaws apart before the hand was free. The weasel may now be seen in the American Museum, and Preble in the Agricultural Department at Washington, the latter none the worse. So wore away the month, the last night came, a night of fireside joy at home (for was it not Hallowe'en?), and our celebration took the form of washing, shaving, mending clothes, in preparation for our landing in the morning."Seton admitted to a wanderlust desire to go to unexplored regions. He traveled the Nyarling River and camped at the Great Slave Lake, White Fish River, Salt River, Athabska River and Little Buffalo River. He met with Native Americans he called Cree, Chipewyan, Grand Lake Algonquin and Blackfoot Indians.
He describes – and sketches drawings of – dozens of fauna and flora, presented in scientific sketches. Black-and-white photos show the beautiful desolation of the open country.
In the final chapter, "The End," Seton writes:
"All that night of Hallowe'en, a partridge drummed near my untented couch on the balsam boughs. What a glorious sound of woods and life triumphant it seemed; and why did he drum at night? Simply because he had more joy than the short fall day gave him time to express. He seemed to be beating our march of victory, for were we not in triumph coming home? The gray firstlight came through the trees and showed us lying each in his blanket, covered with leaves, like babes in the woods. The gray jays came wailing through the gloom, a faroff cock-of-the-pines was trumpeting in the lovely, unplagued autumn woods; it seemed as though all the very best things in the land were assembled and the bad things all left out, so that our final memories should have no evil shade. The scene comes brightly back again, the sheltering fir-clad shore, the staunch canoe skimming the river's tranquil reach, the water smiling round her bow, as we push from this, the last of full five hundred camps. The dawn fog lifts, the river sparkles in the sun, we round the last of a thousand headlands. The little frontier town of the Landing swings into view once more – what a metropolis it seems to us now!"We can picture a young John Finn reading this book rapturously and enjoying the photos and drawings by the author.
|USS John Finn (DDG 113) in Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler.|
Meanwhile, the John Finn whiteboat, one of several in Pearl Harbor with Sailors at the helm, is used nearly every day to take about 150 visitors per trip to the USS Arizona Memorial – more than a million-and-a-half people per year from throughout the world.
Among the groups who visit Pearl Harbor each year are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Interestingly, Ernest Thompson Seton is considered to one of the "fathers" of Scouting.
Politics, patriotism and even spirituality/religion are intertwined in a fascinating essay by David C. Scott and presented by Johnny Walker about Seton's role in the early days of Scouting.
Ernest Thompson Seton founded The Woodcraft Movement in 1901 and wrote the first Boy Scouts of America handbooks. The original 1910 BSA manual is subtitled "A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft" (Seton and Baden-Powell, 1910). Seton also wrote "The Woodcraft Manual for Girls" in 1916.
For perspective on Seton, consider that he was born in England in April 14, 1860, nearly one year to the day before the start of America's Civil War. He moved to Canada, where he lived and studied, before eventually moving to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen, settling near Santa Fe, New Mexico – in the heart of his (and Finn's) beloved West.
|Seton teaches young people about Indian culture as part of his Woodcraft Movement, 1903.|
Though apparently hobbled by his own ego and patriarchal thinking toward other races, he was an early champion of equal rights for women, and he had deep respect for Native American Indian culture.
Seton also reached across the Atlantic to his native England and sought to strengthen ties in World War I, reinforcing the ideal of service.
In his "The Gospel of the Redman: An Indian Bible" Seton writes: "The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, 'How much service have I rendered to my people?' His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and colored with complete realization of the spirit world."
Seton died 71 years ago on Oct. 23, 1946, one year after the end of the war John Finn helped win. Today the Navy remembers the service of John Finn, who, though wounded and vulnerable, fought back, firing his mounted machine gun at attacking enemy planes on December 7, 1941 at Naval Station Kaneohe Bay, now Marine Corps Base Hawaii. We can imagine Finn's spirit aboard USS John Finn, at MCBH and in Pearl Harbor.
|Extended family members and friends of the late John Finn visit his namesake whiteboat in Pearl Harbor July 17, 2017. (Photo by Ens. Britney Duesler)|