|Official Air Force Portrait of Colonel A. Thomas Finney
Arthur Thomas Finney was born in Canmer, Kentucky. He graduated from Berea College in 1948 with a B.S. in Business Administration. He was also a volunteer fireman on campus. After graduation he joined the Air Force. In July 1966, as a Squadron Commander, he led a flight of F-104 Starfighters to Udorn Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand for deployment to the Vietnam War. On August 1, 1966, on his third mission, he was shot down near Hanoi. Colonel Finney was listed as Missing-in-Action until 1985, when his remains were returned.
Arthur Thomas Finney was born June 26, 1928, to A.C. Finney and Elizabeth Pearl Finney. He was from Canmer, Hart County, Kentucky. He attended Memorial High School in Hardyville, Kentucky. He came to Berea at the age of 15 in 1944. He went through the Lower Division and took Summer School until he entered the Upper Division in 1946. He graduated in 1948 with a B.S. in Business Administration. While at Berea he was a member of the Berea Players, the YMCA Cabinet, the Economics and Business Club, and the “B” Club. In varsity athletics he competed in tennis, track, and Cross Country.
According to the Berea Citizen, Finney’s schoolmates remembered him for his talent on the piano, which he often played. He worked for the Chimes as his labor position at the college. He also served as student chief of the Berea College Fire Department.
After Finney graduated, he joined the Air Force and began training to be a pilot. He went to Texas for training and then to Nevada for more pilot training. He learned to fly the P-51 Mustang, the T-33 jet trainer, the F-80 Shooting Star, and then the F-86 Sabre, which he flew in 101 missions in the Korean War. At that time he and his family were living on the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Later he moved to Texas, where he did an exchange duty with the US Navy working off the USS Kearsage, flying Navy Cougar and Panter jets. In 1961 he went to Virginia, where he worked at the Pentagon. From 1962 through 1965 he was stationed in Australia, as Assistant Air Attache at the US Embassy. There, as an Air Force major and a diplomat, he met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Then he returned to the United States. At George Air Force Base in Victorville, California, he became Squadron Commander of the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron and flew the F-104 Starfighter. In July 1966 he left for Vietnam from the Udorn Air Base in Thailand.
On his third mission in Vietnam, on August 1, 1966, he was hit by a SAM missile about forty miles from Hanoi. His wingman saw him eject and said that he had a good parachute. This was the last time he was seen, and he was listed as missing in action. When the prisoners of war were released in 1973, Finney was not among them, and no POW recalled him. His wife Peggy had his status changed to killed in action in 1974, and she and her two children moved to Las Vegas. She passed away in 1981 without any specific knowledge of what happened to him.
In 1985 the Air Force contacted Finney’s eldest son to inform him that the North Vietnamese were releasing 26 sets of remains, and Finney’s were among them. The US Army laboratory in Hawaii confirmed the identification. His family conducted a small service for him in Las Vegas, where he was buried next to his wife. Full military honors were given, with an Honor Guard, a 21-gun salute, and a “Missing Man” flyover. His eldest son delivered his eulogy. Finney had been an excellent pilot, with 4,900 hours of flying time on 36 different Air Force and Navy aircraft.
A plaque commemorates Col. Finney at his high school. There is another plaque on a tree in Victorville and a cross in the Berea Baptist Church. Finney received many medals and awards, including the Silver Star. Peggy had a marker placed where he first learned to fly in Nevada. Finney was promoted to full Colonel after his death, and his family received a letter from President Ronald Reagan. The United States flag flew over the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. for a day in his honor.
Written by K. Olivia Meszaros, Edited by Jaime Bradley