The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to United States military pilots for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” It is one of the highest honors in the American armed forces—and Walter E. Shinn, a 1939 Penn graduate, won two of them.
His classmates probably weren’t surprised by that, though. Shinn was a standout from the moment he arrived at Penn in 1935. The New Jersey native was a high school sports superstar and immediately earned spots on both the varsity football and varsity baseball teams here at Penn. He was named captain of the football team in his senior year and also earned All-American honors, but he was an even bigger star on the diamond. During his senior year, he signed a contract with the New York Giants and ended up playing in the Giants’ farm system for two years.
In 1941, though, Shinn told the Giants he was leaving baseball to join the Navy. After going through training at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, he eventually joined the battle against the Axis powers, earning his two Distinguished Flying Crosses while flying with the “Black Cat” squadron, which sank 75,000 tons worth of enemy ships during World War II. Shinn kept flying after the war, too, spending 30 years as a pilot with National Airlines and later serving as general manager of Chalk’s Airlines, which offered service between Florida and the Bahamas. He passed away in 1988.
For more on this, go to the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on October 30, 2008