Joint Base Charleston


It's in his blood: Third generation air-crew member shares family legacy

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | April 25, 2012

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As long as there has been an Air Force in the United States, there has been a Skvarna in the skies defending it.

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.

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 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."

The infamous Pacific campaign 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.

For everyone 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 sank the carrier in Nov. 1944. My grandfather's disadvantage of being colorblind 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."

For his actions during the Pacific campaign, the eldest Skvarna received an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic efforts among many other achievements.

After 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 travelled to countries all over the world.

Every mission Edward B. went on, he wore his father'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 them."

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.

According to retired Capt. Skvarna, one of his greatest accomplishments in the military came years after he retired from the service.

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 today's loadmasters.

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.

"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 I."

"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 proud."

Matthew's grandfather passed away in August 2010, shortly after Matthew's third deployment as a loadmaster. Edward M.'s flight wings, withered from the additional years of wear from Matthew's father, is proudly worn today by Matthew as he flies missions all over the world.

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