'Ultimate civic leader' lauded on 102nd birthday

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com
John Kinney looks over a Pennsylvania Senate proclamation in honor of his 102nd birthday. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

First Lt. John Kinney, an Army pilot, once had to ditch at sea in World War II and was reported as dead.

Decades later, that's one tidbit from his long life that Kinney shared last week on the eve of his 102nd birthday.

Fellow members of Greencastle Presbyterian Church feted Kinney at Providence Place outside of Chambersburg late Thursday afternoon. He was honored earlier in the month by his family, as well as the Shady Grove Ruritan Club, which holds its October meeting at Providence Place each year for the lifetime Ruritan's birthday.

"I just exist day to day and enjoy life ... I know of no other way to approach it," said Kinney, who was born during World War I on Oct. 25, 1917, in Port Allegany.

He earned a degree in poultry husbandry from Penn State before enlisting to serve in World War II. He was a flying cadet in training in Arkansas when he met his future wife, Helen, a nurse.

 In the air 

Kinney recalled he was initially assigned to anti-submarine patrol off South America and received part of the credit for disabling a German submarine that was later captured.

Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano, a fellow veteran, presented Kinney with a certificate from the Senate in honor of his birthday.

Mastriano said he was honored to attend the event for a member of the Greatest Generation and thanked Kinney for his service and "holding the line in dark days."

"I'm honored, really honored," said Kinney, who recounted his time in the European Theater and participating in the bombing of Berlin.

He said he felt terrible because he could see women and children fleeing, but later learned Berlin had a great underground railroad system, most escaped and there wasn't much carnage.

"You changed the course of history," Mastriano said, talking about the devastation to the Luftwaffe, the German military's air branch.

Kinney estimated he flew 15 combat missions in B-24s and B-25s with the U.S. Army Air Force. He later put his experience to work as a technical writer who wrote flight manuals for, among others, Fairchild, American Airlines and the U.S. government.

 In the community 

The Kinneys, who had three children, long lived on McDowell Road outside of Shady Grove, where they were known for raising sheep, and later moved to Homestead Drive, Greencastle. Mrs. Kinney died in 2009.

"Over the years, Mr. Kinney has proven himself to be an outstanding citizen who exemplifies the finest virtues of American life," reads the Senate citation. "He has won the respect of his many family members, friends, neighbors and acquaintances who have come to know and admire him."

"He's the ultimate civic leader," said Anne Larew, a member of the Presbyterian Church, where Kinney served as an elder and trustee.

Another person on hand Thursday was Scott Sutton, president of the Greencastle Area Youth Foundation, which maintains the High Line Train Station. Active in Scouting since his youth and a local Scout leader, Kinney was founding vice president of the foundation and was involved in buying the building known as Scout headquarters from the railroad.

Kinney also helped found the Maugansville and State Line Ruritan clubs. He was president of the Shady Grove Ruritan three times, and started the club's sale of bluebird house and wreaths. He's been a member of the Lions, VFW, American Legion and Masons and held leadership posts with the Greencastle Rotary Club and the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.

Kinney served 17 years on the Greencastle-Antrim School Board, including six as president.