“Lost Eagles” Author Blaine Pardoe Honors Admirable U-M Alumnus in Book

by Trade Marketing on November 10, 2010


Blaine Pardoe, author of the new book Lost Eagles: One Man’s Mission to Find Missing Airmen in Two World Wars, explains his growing interest in the inspirational story of an unrecognized war hero: Fred Zinn.

“When I was working on Terror of the Autumn Skies, the story of Frank Luke Jr., I started coming across references to Frederick W. Zinn.  I was intrigued because he seemed to be involved with the recovery of missing airmen which was fascinating, mostly because at the time I didn’t know anything about it.  When I found out he was from Battle Creek/Galesburg I was even more shocked.   I live in Virginia but grew up in Battle Creek and my parents owned an antique mall in Galesburg, but I had never heard of Fred Zinn.  There were no statues to him, no streets named after him.

“Zinn, or as my researcher and I started to refer to him, OBZ (Our Boy Zinn) became something of an obsession with me.  When I visited my parents antique store in Galesburg, I figured out where his family business, the old A.K. Zinn mill was…a mere 100 feet from my father’s store.  Two brick buildings remained as well as the faint impression of the mill race. A check at the Galesburg Public Library yielded a wealth of material, including a photo album with childhood snapshots.

“The more I researched the more interesting I found Fred Zinn to be.  His story was remarkable.  When he graduated from the University of Michigan, he went to Paris only to be there at the outbreak of the Great War.  He became a member of the French Foreign Legion, then the French Air Service (and the infamous Lafayette Flying Corps), then the American Air Service — actually he was the first American transferred from the French to the U.S. Air Service.  He was America’s first aerial combat photographer.  He served from the very start of the war and when the war ended he proposed doing something unique — staying behind to look for the 200 missing airmen.

“Up until that time no one had considered trying to find the remains of missing aviators and identifying them.  If bodies were found the Graves Registration Service tried to identify them – but what he proposed was unique — going and looking for the missing men.  Fred Zinn had been the personnel officer who had sent many of these men to the front.  It was a link to them that was undeniable.  He had sent them out to their deaths and he was willing to remain behind and attempt to find them.

“So the young Michigan man who had been in France fighting for the Legion at the start of the war stayed behind to look for the missing airmen.  Using combat reports, former enemy aces, and field searches — Fred was able to recover the remains or personnel effects of 195 of the 200 missing airmen.  He brought closure to the families and gave the cause of missing airmen a name and voice.

“When WWII broke out, Fred Zinn knew the issues he had faced were going to be multiplied by thousands.  He lobbied Washington to put together a system for recovering missing airmen.  Ultimately he called in favors with men like Eddie Rickenbacker to get General Marshall to agree to an approach.  Fred Zinn created the Missing Air Crew system.

“Still not satisfied he wanted to set up a system on the ground as the allies advanced to attempt to identify the remains.  When the Air Force would not give him permission, he leveraged some friendships with former Legionnaires and joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) the precursor to the CIA.  They were willing to let Fred join their counter-espionage forces where he could also act as a spy while conducting his searches.  At the age of 52 Fred was once again returning to war.

“Fred Zinn found the remains of countless airmen in Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France.  His efforts pioneered the modern searches for missing airmen around the world.  In the creed of the U.S. Air Force there is a line, “I will leave no airman behind.”  Fred Zinn is the impetus of that thinking.  His life-long mission continues on today in the work of the JPAC – the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command.

“In the composition of this book, I didn’t want to just tell the story of Fred Zinn; I wanted to tell the stories of some of the men he found (and few he didn’t).  Based on the archival sources and Zinn’s own notes, I was able to reconstruct the stories of a handful of airmen and their final fates.  To me the chapter that is the most moving in the last in the book, which covers what happened after their final disposition was made.  Zinn’s story is not just his own remarkable life, but the closure he brought to hundreds of families and the final respect he brought to the aviators that were MIA.”

For information on Zinn and Pardoe, check out the book’s detail page.

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