Henry Wallace "Wally" Kinnan (March 7, 1919-November 22, 2002) who was a decorated World War II hero, also was one of the first well known U.S. pioneer television broadcast meteorologists. Kinnan held American Meteorological Society Television Seal #3. Kinnan, who also served in World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot and then an Advanced Weather Officer attaining the rank of Captain in the United States Air Force before resigning in March 1953 to enter broadcasting in Oklahoma.
As Kinnan was crawling, his parachute caught on some part of the aircraft which left Wally in frantic state trying to unbind himself and his parachute from the rapidly descending aircraft. During this process he had unbuckled his parachute and was never able to put it back on properly. Finally able to free himself he launched himself from the airplane, up and out the normally facing downward hatch and pulled his parachute's ripcord.
Kinnan and M/Sgt Henry Petroski were the last two to exit, falling amidst the burning debris of their aircraft. Because he had not been able to properly restrap the parachute on, when it opened it twisted him up causing a severe back injury. This, plus the wounds he had sustained from the flak bursts while still in the aircraft made it impossible for him to evade capture once he was on the ground.
Kinnan strongly credits his German captors in France with great humanity and care of his injuries. However, after just only over a week in France they transferred him to another hospital that was part of Dulag Luft near Frankfurt, where his treatment was much more stern. Once processed he was transferred to Stalag Luft III in mid-September 1943. The reality of the situation in the Stalag system was even more dire and cruel to where life often hinged on not having enough to eat.
Near the end of 1943, there were many new prisoners coming into the camp. Kinnan, who may have been almost a real-life Hogan’s Hero, persuaded the German captors to find some decent musical instruments so they could put on some organized musical programs. Kinnan and a group of Who’s Who’s of music that were all interred in German Camps founded a band called the Sagan Serenaders. Kinnan (and Pilot Officer Leonard Whiteley of the British Royal Air Force) organized and led the group.
The Serenaders received donated musical instruments from aid organizations and whatsoever the German captors could scrounge up. One instrument was an unusual trombone that Wally described as a plumber's nightmare. They 'sacrificed' this instrument so that other POW's could turn it into a still.
Included in this group were pianist John Bunch, who would later play with bandleaders Woody Herman and Benny Goodman; Tiger Ward; John Brady; Hi Bevins; Nick Nagorka and trumpeter Vince Shank who later would play with Russ Morgan.
The Serenaders had four trumpets (one was one), two trombones, five saxophones, and four rhythm instruments. Wally Kinnan once said, "We were beginning to talk seriously about taking the band on tour in the U.S. when and if we could manage to survive the war."
The 1963 motion picture The Great Escape, which greatly depicts some of the Serenders and Kinnan's experiences, showed a choir singing while the escape started but in actuality, it was the Serenaders. The Serenaders contributed to the effort regularly by practicing their instruments to mask the sound of digging.
Towards the end of the war the Russians were nearing Stalag Luft III so the Germans forced marched the POW's to Stalag Luft VII A.
Kinnan's youngest son, Timothy, who is a Lt. General in the Air Force, has pointed out that his father (Kinnan), through encoded letters to his mother (Kinnan's wife Marjorie), had informed the United States War Department (now the Department of Defense) that fifty of the escapees were recaptured by the Germans and were shot by firing squad. The letters was decoded by the U.S. government and then sent on to Kinnan's wife.
Early in 1945, the Soviets were approaching the camp. The Germans marched 12,000 prisoners, including the band members, straight out of the camp. Wally thought they would be marched into a field and executed. However, they were led on a forced march instead, through a blizzard to Spremberg almost 200 miles away. Many of the POWs died during the trek. Pianist Bunch, said Kinnan had saved his life by sharing a potato. Food was very scarce.
After the arrival of General Patton’s Third Army at Stalag Luft VII A, on April 29, 1945, Kinnan, along with his other very grateful companions were finally freed. Keenan would then spend his processing time at Camp Lucky Strike before being sent statside. Official records have initial capture date as August 17, 1943 with official repatriation to the United States as of June 30, 1945.
During the Korean Conflict, Kinnan served in the Pacific Theatre region. His other assignments included weather service on the Kwajalein Atoll, Guam and Hawaii. He was a pioneer of the Severe Storm Center of the Air Weather Service. Deciding a career in Broadcast Meteorology was an exciting field he resigned his commission from the US Air Force to become one of the earliest broadcast meteorologists.
Kinnan, who was affably nicknamed "The Weatherman", was a well-known personality in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Tampa. Kinnan worked at WKYC-TV in Cleveland, OH and later, from 1978-1980, at WTSP-TV in Tampa, FL.
Kinnan was one of the first three meteorologists, joining Francis K. Davis and Kenneth H. Jehn, to earn the "Seal of Approval" from the American Meteorological Society. Wally often told the story of how they drew straws to determine who would be the first, second, and third meteorologist to earn the seal.
He later went on to serve on the Board of the American Meteorological Society for Radio and Television Broadcasting and the Committee on Industrial Meteorology.
He was also the founding Director of the Franklin Institute Weather Center with Col. Robert Miller of the Fawbush-Miller Tornado team.