CHARLESTON, S.C. (4/25/2012) - As long as there has been an Air
Force in the United States, there has been a Skvarna in the skies
For Staff Sgt. Matthew Skvarna, 17th Airlift
Squadron instructor loadmaster, 437th Airlift Wing, pinning on air
crew wings, lacing up his combat boots and boarding a cargo plane is
more than a military job; it's a family legacy... a legacy that goes
back years before Skvarna was born.
April 25, 2012 - USAF Staff Sgt. Matthew Skvarna, an instructor
loadmaster, stands in front of a C-17 Globemaster III on Joint Base
Charleston - Air Base (photo left). Skvarna is a third generation aircrew member. His father was a loadmaster and his grandfather was a right gunner on a B-29 super fortress.
(Skvarna holds his father's and grandfather's aircrew wings in the
photo right.) His grandfather also received the Air Force Flying Cross for his efforts during the Pacific campaign during World War II.
Photos by USAF Staff Sgt. Nicole Mickle
This story begins in 1942, with a 17-year old
Czechoslovakian born teenager, Edward M. Skvarna, Matthew's
grandfather. The United States was facing one of its
greatest enemies after being attacked by the Japanese at
Pearl Harbor and the Edward M., barely able to speak
English, was eager to defend his country. After graduating
high school a year early, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps,
hoping to become a pilot.
"My father joined the
military for two reasons," said Edward B. Skvarna, Matthew's
father. "He wanted to see the world and he didn't want to be
stuck working in the steel mills of Pittsburgh his whole
life. For him, being an air crew member during World War II
was everything he dreamed it would be. He loved the
dangerous aspects of early flight missions and the
adventurous skies of combat."
During this time, the
infamous Pacific campaign, during World War II, was at its
peak and the eldest Skvarna, along with the Army Air Corps,
was routinely flying high toward the Empire of Japan on
photo reconnaissance missions.
The team soared
through the bitter darkness of enemy skies and gathered
photo intelligence in a B-29 Superfortress, one of the
heaviest long-range bomber aircrafts used during the war.
On one mission in particular, the eldest Skvarna, then
thousands of miles from the steel mills of Pittsburgh, was
preparing for battle as a right gunner on the B-29. He was
colorblind and even though it disqualified him from becoming
a pilot, it led him to qualify for other jobs within the air
crew. Edward M. was able to use his 'disadvantage' of being
colorblind to the advantage of the Allied Forces.
"Being colorblind didn't slow my grandpa down," said
Matthew. "It was during that flight over the Japanese harbor
he proved that."
While gathering intelligence from a
bird's eye view, the eldest Skvarna spotted something in the
harbor that didn't look right. He spotted an outline of an
Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier that was camouflaged
to blend in with the colors of the sea.
on the Superfortress, the carrier was virtually invisible.
However, Edward M. noticed the ship immediately because of
how differently his vision interpreted the colors.
"He kept telling the crew he saw a Japanese war ship in the
water," said Matthew. "At first, they thought he was crazy,
nobody else in the air could see anything. He stuck to his
guns, though. A U.S. Navy submarine confirmed the Japanese
aircraft carrier, Shinano, was in the harbor. The USS Archer
Fish sunk the carrier in Nov. 1944. My grandfather's
disadvantage of being may not have allowed him to be a pilot
but it ended up saving countless lives by sinking one of the
largest Japanese ships during the war."
actions during the Pacific campaign, the eldest Skvarna
received an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for his
heroic efforts among many other achievements.
serving in the military, the eldest Skvarna used the
leadership skills and education opportunities provided by
the armed forces to plant roots in Covina, Calif. and became
a school teacher.
Matthew's father, Edward B., grew
up in California. He enjoyed building model airplanes,
listening to his dad's heroic war stories and knowing that
when his time came, he was going to enlist in the U.S. Air
Force. After graduating high school, he did just that.
During his time in the Air Force, Matthew's father
reached the rank of senior master sergeant before
commissioning as an officer. He retired as a captain in the
Air Force Reserve. He spent more than 15 years of his career
as a C-141 loadmaster, where he saw multiple countries all
over the world.
Every mission Edward B. went on, he
wore Edward M.'s old flight wings. They were battered and
worn from all his missions during World War II.
"Being a loadmaster was an amazing experience," said the
retired captain. "I've always had pride in my military
experience. Even after the Vietnam War, when some people
didn't have pride, I'd proudly wear my uniform in front of
Today, Matthew's father is the chief of police
at the Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, Calif.
While at the airport, he makes it his personal mission to
approach every uniformed service member he can and thank
them for their service to the country.
retired Capt. Skvarna, one of his greatest accomplishments
in the military came years after he retired from military
Matthew was able to give his father, Edward
B., a tour inside the C-17 Globemaster III shortly after it
landed in Long Beach, Calif. It was during that tour
Matthew's father noticed the impact his generation had on
The original design engineers of
the C-17 flew multiple flights around the world with various
air crew members, including Matthew's father, while they
were brainstorming the internal design of the new C-17. It
was on those flights that Matthew's father was able to make
multiple requests to be made on the upcoming aircraft.
"I sat the design engineers down and told them exactly
what loadmasters needed to be safer and to do their job
better, such as fixing troop seats, loadmaster's crew
position on the plane and having a weight balance computer
for loadmasters," said Matthew's father. "When Matt gave me
a tour of the plane he flies all over the world in, I
noticed the designers made every adjustment I suggested
years ago. It's rewarding for me because not only did I take
part in helping future loadmasters stay safe and do their
job more efficiently, one of those loadmasters is my son."
Although the youngest Skvarna came from a
historically military family, he didn't enlist into the Air
Force right after high school.
"My grandfather knew
I'd join the military before I ever considered it," said
Matthew. "One of the proudest moments he had was when I
became a loadmaster, because not only was I doing a similar
job as my father did in the military, but also a similar job
to what he once did."
Joining the Air Force also
gives Matthew a deeper understanding of both his father and
grandfather. The C-17 he flies in soars thousands of feet
above the same foreign lands as his father and grandfather's
respective planes did years ago. His grandfather's flight
wings, worn from age and the additional years of wear from
his father wearing them. Today, the same wings are proudly
displayed on Matthew's flight suit as well.
"Wherever I deploy, there is always a bond that I share with
generations of air crew members before me," said Matthew.
"It is an unspoken bond shared among my grandpa, dad, myself
and countless veterans all over the world. Having such a
powerful commonality bridges my family's history with the
Air Force's history. As the Air Force has changed, so have
"Matt didn't know it at the time," said Matthew's
father. "But I influenced him at an early age to be a
loadmaster. He's always had the perfect attitude; he is a
flexible person that thinks outside the box. I would have
been proud no matter what he did in life, but carrying on
the air crew legacy of his grandfather and me as
successfully as he has, has made his grandfather and me very
Matthew's grandfather passed away in August
2010, shortly after Matthew's third deployment as a
Today, Matthew still brings his father
and grandfather's flight wings on missions all over the
By USAF irman 1st Class Tom Brading
Comment on this article