Walt Shinn was born on January 18, 1916, in South Amboy, New
Jersey. He grew up in Parlin, New Jersey, and attended South
River High School from 1931 to 1933, then Hun School in
Princeton from 1933 to 1935.
Shinn was named to New Jersey’s all-state football and baseball
high school teams from 1933 to 1935, and went on to become an
athletic star at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a member
of both the varsity baseball (as a hard-hitting outfielder) and
football teams (as tackle) during his first three years, and
captained the football team his senior year.
His contract was assigned to the Richmond Colts of the Class B
Piedmont League for 1941, but as spring training was just getting
under way in March 1941, Shinn enlisted as a naval cadet. He wrote
to Colts’ owner, Eddie Mooers, telling him he was giving up
baseball, and went through cadet training at Jacksonville Naval Air
Station in Florida with the University of Pennsylvania Unit.
He earned his pilot’s wings in 1942, and was selected to remain as
an instructor serving as squadron assistant personnel officer
because “his natural ability as a leader and his amazing skill as a
pilot have combined to make him one of the best fliers at the Air
Station,” claimed The Pennsylvania Gazette in January 1943.
His biggest thrill was his first solo flight. “On the day I was to
go up alone, I knew I was going to be scared," he said. "I was sure
that I would be able to get the plane up all right, but I didn't
know how I'd do after that. Well, I kept my fingers crossed, made
the take-off perfectly, circled the field and landed very well.
However, I was plenty scared all the time. Still I think that was my
biggest thrill. I don't remember being scared before, but after that
hop my confidence built up. I was on my way.”
Next to his first solo he says acrobatics were the most thrilling
part of his training. "Doing loops and other such forms of
acrobatics show the ability of a flier to coordinate the movement of
a stick, the rudder and ailerons. A good flier can fly an airplane
from any position."
During the baseball season at NAS Jacksonville, Shinn played left
field on the squad which was coached by former big league pitcher
Lieutenant George Earnshaw. He was one of the leading hitters and
his long range slugging was instrumental in enabling Jacksonville to
defeat the Pensacola Naval Air Station team, Jacksonville's number
one rival. He was also a star tackle on the NAS Jacksonville
football team which defeated Florida, Miami and Tampa Universities
and two Army teams, Spence Field and Daniel Field.
Lieutenant (jg) Shinn was later assigned to VPB-11 (Patrol
Bombing Squadron), one the Black Cat squadrons in the Pacific
Theater, where he flew PBY Catalina flying boats. He was awarded
the Distinguished Service Medal in 1944 for damaging a Japanese
cruiser in the Solomon Sea, and later in 1944 earned the
Distinguished Flying Cross. In October 1944, he played a key
part in the Allied invasion of Japanese-occupied Leyte by flying
Commander Charles Parsons and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Rouelle
to the island to help coordinate the evacuation of civilians
from the area before the softening-up bombardment was to take
place. Shinn safely put them ashore south of Tacloban City, the
capital of Leyte, on October 12, eight days before the invasion.
Despite being involved in frequent encounters with the enemy, it
was the action of another US Navy airplane that proved the most
life-threatening. In March 1944, Shinn was piloting his PBY-5
when it was struck by the propeller of another PBY that flew too
close and ripped open the hull of Shinn's plane. Shinn was
forced to perform a full stall landing in shallow water. There
were no casualties.
Shinn left the Navy in 1946 and became a commercial airline
pilot, accumulating 27,000 hours of flight time during 30 years
with National Airlines. Then, until his retirement in 1981, he
served as general manager of Chalk’s Airlines, the United
States’ first airline company, flying seaplanes between Florida
and the Bahamas.
Walt Shinn passed away on May 2, 1988, at his Palm Beach Gardens
home. He was 72 and had lived in Florida more than 30 years. He
was survived by his wife Jane Miller Shinn, five sons, a
daughter, and two step-daughters.
McConaghy, Web Coordinator and Historian of the University Archives,
University of Pennsylvania
for help with this biography.
Created May 22, 2007. Updated March 27, 2010.