John R. Finster
Biography: John Russel Finster was born on March 24, 1911, in Roanoke, West Virginia. He was the son of John Finster and Almeda Cochran and attended a one-room schoolhouse in Weston WV. After graduation, John worked as a farmer.
On October 12, 1940, John married the former Loya Merle Watson who was born in Weston. The couple would make their home in Roanoke and have a daughter, Jean, born in May, 1943.
Service Time: John entered the service on August 18, 1943, at Clarksburg, WV. After his initial training, he was assigned to Company A of the 801st Tank Destroyer Battalion and trained with them in the U.S. During his training, John qualified as a Marksman with the Carbine.
The 801st shipped from Boston on February 28, 1944, on the H.M.S. Britannic, and arrived in England on March 11th. Originally trained with self-propelled tank destroyers, they converted to the 3″ towed anti-tank gun and landed at Utah Beach on June 13th, participating in the capture of Cherbourg, France.
Fighting at Mortain in early August, they reached the outskirts of Paris on August 25th and entered Belgium on September 8th, followed by Germany on the 12th. They supported operations in the Hürtgen Forest beginning in late November. On November 20th, while on a reconnaissance mission in Belgium, John was wounded by a German booby trap. A small explosive charge was hidden within the cork of a bottle. When he tried to open the bottle, the explosive went off, tearing his hand up badly and taking him out of commission for some time.
The unit would continue without him and was on the front line, in the Ardennes, when the German offensive struck on December 16th. They moved to Aachen, Germany, in February, 1945, and crossed the Roer River on the 25th, reaching the Rhine River south of Düsseldorf. The unit crossed the Rhine near Wessel on March 29th and supported the drive to the Ruhr, then turning east to the Elbe River.
They transferred south and supported operations in the Harz Mountains in late April and converted to the M18 tank destroyer late that month. Crossing the Danube, they reached the Inn River, outside Hitler’s birthplace, Brunnau, Austria, by VE Day.
John received credit for four of the unit’s campaigns including Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe and was awarded the Purple Heart, EAME, WWII Victory, American Campaign and Good Conduct Medals. he shipped home on September 26th and arrived on October 5th. He was discharged on the 11th at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, at the rank of Private First Class.
In addition to John, his brother Leonard also served during WWII, but in the Army Air Corps. Leonard went in on February 24, 1945, and was sent to the Pacific, serving there right before the war ended and during the occupation period.
Now back in the U.S., John returned to his wife and daughter in Roanoke. He also returned to his former occupation as a farmer. He would also work as a school bus driver. In his spare time, he enjoyed deer hunting. John passed away on December 22, 1991, and was buried in the Weston Masonic Cemetery, in Weston, WV.
I want to thank John’s nephew, Mark, for providing the information and photos for this tribute. I also want to thank Kera Fordyce, a Find a Grave member, ID Number 48894779, for the use of the grave marker photo.