I received an email two weeks ago informing me that a person I had nominated to the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame was going to be inducted this year. Frederick Zinn was born in Galesburg, Michigan and raised in Battle Creek. I wrote an award winning book about him, Lost Eagles, (University of Michigan Press) years ago.
Zinn was a true aviation pioneer. Here’s a short summary of his life:
- After graduating the U of M in 1914 he went to Europe, became embroiled in the Great War, and joined the French Foreign Legion where he was wounded.
- He transferred to the French Air Service as an observer – making him America’s first combat photographer. It also made him the first combat airman from the state of Michigan.
- When America entered the war, he was one of the first aviators to transfer to the American Air Service.
- He was one of the original members of the Lafayette Flying Corps and was close friends with the members of the Lafayette Escadrille.
- He established the first American observation training school.
- He flew combat missions.
- After the war, Zinn remained behind, initiating the search for missing airmen. Up until this point, the military did not search for missing warriors. He recovered or identified the remains of 194 out of 200 missing airmen. He embodied the phrase, “We will leave no man behind.”
- He ran a successful grain and feed company between the wars.
- In WWII, he worked directly with General Marshall to create the system for recovering missing airmen (the Missing Air Crew Report system).
- When he was denied the chance to find missing airmen, Zinn joined the OSS – the precursor to the CIA, as a counterintelligence officer. His cover, provided by the Kellogg Foundation, was to search for missing airmen.
- He recovered countless missing American airmen during the war.
- He performed several counterintelligence missions, well past the age of 50, during WWII.
- After the war, he was a state representative in the Michigan House.
If you live near Kalamazoo, you should consider attending the induction ceremony. Zinn was, and remains, a true American hero. While I have a prior commitment that prevents me from attending the ceremony, I am pleased and honored that he is finally getting the recognition that he so richly deserves.