Overcoming Incredible Odds: Lt. Col. Anthony Shine


Overcoming Incredible Odds

by Anthony, Colleen, Shannon and Bomette “Bonnie” Shine

ANTHONY CAMERON SHINE is honored on Panel 1W, Row 93 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


Before volunteering for his second tour of duty in Vietnam, before escorting his youngest brother’s body home for burial, even before joining the United States Air Force in 1961, Tony Shine was a man of character and perseverance. He was a big man, standing a few inches above six feet and weighing in at 230 pounds. Physical fitness was his lifelong tenet for being the best he could be.      

In grade school, Tony was handsome and smart, the consummate Norman Rockwell picture of a healthy, vibrant “boy’s boy.” Fittingly, his first love before flying was football. Tony relished the competition, team discipline and excitement of the game. When he was 11, tragedy struck Tony in the form of polio, a crippling disease that struck fear in the hearts of families across the United States. So many who contracted the disease would be paralyzed by it; some would die from it.       

Tony was bedridden with polio for many long months—no more running, blocking or tackling, just lying still, exercising his mind and will to recover. When he finally succeeded in defeating polio, Tony’s body was weak and atrophied. His left hand was so badly ravaged that muscle transplant operations were necessary to restore use of his thumb. His physical deterioration was such that he couldn’t pick up or hold a pencil with either hand. Doctors explained that the damage to his muscles was so severe he would be lucky to walk normally again, let alone to play football.

Devastated but not defeated, Tony made a decision not to quit. Drawing on a determination and self-discipline that would become his hallmark, he was diligent with his physical therapy, pushing himself to do more and to be more than his doctors deemed possible. In a matter of months, the boy who could not pick up a pencil or write his name, even with his good hand, had overcome the odds. Through tenacity and arduous physical therapy, not only did Tony learn how to write again with his right hand, but he could write equally well with his left.   

Once he could stand, Tony rebuilt his body and his life. He learned to walk without a limp and began training so he could try out for his high school football team. At first, it was difficult; the cheerleaders on the sidelines could run up and down the field faster than he could. Yet he never gave up.  Eventually, he earned a place as a starting player on the varsity team. And later, he went on to become a starting player in college football for Colgate University.

Following the muscle transplant surgery, growth in Tony’s left hand was stunted, and it always remained considerably smaller than his right. This malady could have disqualified him from being an Air Force pilot, let alone a fighter pilot, with its uniquely stringent physical requirements.  Again, Tony met the challenge and overcame it.  He used weights and, for years, carried hand grips in his coat pockets so he could exercise his left hand. 

Early in his Air Force career, Tony served as an instructor pilot. Leading by word and example, he encouraged his students to work harder and to persevere to reach their goals. Drawing on his personal experiences and one of his favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling, “If,” Tony challenged his students.  Sometimes, he would say, you must “force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them ‘hold on.’”

Lt. Col. Anthony C. Shine, USAF, was missing in action from 1972-1996, when his remains were repatriated and interred at Arlington National Cemetery.  The U.S. Air Force’s top gun award, the Lt. Col. Anthony C. Shine Award, is presented annually to the USAF fighter pilot who most exemplifies Tony’s caliber of character and his professionalism in flying a tactical fighter aircraft.