John Finlay was born on June 29, 1927, in Arlington, Virginia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 25, 1944, and served as an Aviation Radioman aboard PBMs and PB4-Y2s until his discharge from active duty on June 28, 1946. He continued in the Navy Reserve until April 1, 1948. Finlay was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force through the Army ROTC program at the University of Maryland on May 24, 1949, and went on active duty beginning on September 21, 1949. He served in research and development at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, from September 1949 to September 1951, and then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to Ohio State University, where he received his Masters degree in October 1953. From October 1953 to May 1954, Finlay served as a Test Officer at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. He then began flight training and was awarded his pilot wings on April 29, 1955, at Williams AFB, Arizona. Capt Finlay next served as an instructor pilot at Williams AFB, Arizona, and Laughlin AFB, Texas, from August 1955 to May 1957. He was then transferred to the 27th Fighter Bomber Wing at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, where he served from May to December 1957, and then to the 494th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Chaumont AB, France, until May 1959. Finlay then served with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England, from May 1959 to September 1960, when he was sent to Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. After graduating in July 1961, Finlay served with Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, until December 1964. From December 1964 to January 1968, Col Finlay served as Operations Officer and then Commander of the 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Hahn AB, West Germany. He began flying combat missions in Southeast Asia with the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at DaNang AB in the Republic of Vietnam in January 1968, and flew 68 combat missions before being forced to eject over North Vietnam and taken as a Prisoner of War on April 28, 1968. After spending 1,781 days in captivity, Col Finlay was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries and then served at the Air Force Eastern Test Range at Patrick AFB, Florida, from July 1973 until his retirement from the Air Force on August 31, 1975. John Finlay and his wife Carolyn were married on June 3, 1949, and had three children together-Carol Ann, John IV, and Robert. John died on October 30, 2011, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel John S. Finlay III distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as flight leader of three F-4D's in Southeast Asia on 28 April 1968. On that date, Colonel Finlay was directed against a heavily defended target in support of interdiction operations. To insure exact placement of his special ordnance, Colonel Finlay courageously flew his aircraft just above the low overcast, placing himself well within the capabilities of the many anti-aircraft artillery pieces defending this target. Imbued with the desire to complete his mission successfully, and with complete disregard for personal safety, Colonel Finlay made two attacks on the target. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Colonel Finlay has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.