Harry L. Runyan was born on March 13, 1918, in Trenton, New Jersey. His father worked as a civil engineer for the American Bridge Company up until the time of the Great Depression in 1929, when Harry was eleven years old.
Harry went to Rutgers University originally as a pre-med student and then changed to engineering. After graduating from Rutgers in 1939, Runyan worked for Pratt and Whitney for a short time before moving to California. There, he worked for the Civil Service inspecting airplanes and was there on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Once the United States became involved in World War II, Harry enlisted and became an engineering officer for the Eleventh Combat Mapping Station and, later, the 30th Photo Recon Squadron for the Ninth Air Force with missions focusing on photo reconnaissance and airplane maintenance. By January of 1944, Runyan was sent overseas and became attached to the First Division, First Army, and served at places including Omaha Beach and Versailles.
After V-J Day, Runyan came back to Fort Dix to be discharged. He went on to receive his Master's in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Virginia and, later, his PhD. Runyan continued to work at Langley NASA for about thirty years as a flutter expert before settling in Newport News, Virginia.