Tradition of Service: Then and Now

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gregory M. Kuzma
  • 62nd Aerial Port Squadron
Ever since I arrived at McChord Field on February 1, 2010 my father and I have been comparing notes. Over 60 years ago, then a 1st Lieutenant in the newly established United States Air Force, he flew the C-54 "Skymaster" with the 7th Troop Carrier Squadron under the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing at McChord Air Force Base. This is the first base that I have been assigned to that still has an active squadron my father once served in. It's interesting to note that my father came to McChord as it transitioned to an air force base, while it has transitioned back to an air field during my tour here.

Recently, I got a chance to talk with my father, Lt. Col. (ret.) Myron L. Kuzma, to ask him about his experience as a pilot in the 7th Troop Carrier Squadron in 1950. Amazingly, even at 86 years old, he is still able to recall particular missions and former aircrew member's names.

"After I flew 13 combat missions in the B-24 'Liberator' in WWII, I received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant from Flight Officer, which was considered an enlisted rank," he said. "After Japan surrendered, I did an overseas long tour in the far east flying the C-54 "Skymaster" all over the Pacific in the late 1940's. It was part of the effort to rebuild a decimated Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

As my father told me this, I realized nobody earns battlefield commissions anymore. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces on December 15, 1943, where he was selected for flight school along with his two brothers, Eddie and William. That day marked the beginning of a family affair in the profession of arms. Unfortunately, the oldest brother William was killed during a pilot training accident and Eddie was released from service. However, my father continued on into advanced flying training which led to his first deployment to Cerignola, Italy flying multiple combat missions over Europe with the 484th Bombardment Group in 1944 in his flak-damaged B-24 known as the "Stud Hoss."

He later received orders to McChord as it transitioned from an air field to an air force base in 1948. As a member of the 7th Troop Carrier Squadron, he flew long, over-water missions to Japan transporting supplies, personnel and vehicles shortly after he arrived in early 1950. The 7th Troop Carrier Squadron, formed on October 1, 1933, is known as the airlift squadron with the longest record of distinguished service receiving the Meritorious Unit Award, two Outstanding Unit Awards, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. My father embodied the 7th Airlift Squadron's motto; "Volen et Potens" meaning "Willing and Able."

"I was with the 7th Troop Carrier Squadron for about five months when we were directed to load the planes with everyone and everything we had in the squadron and fly down to transfer to Kelly Air Force Base." he said. "The skies were full of C-54s as we neared San Antonio. Out of nowhere, we encountered some of the roughest flying as we were caught in a blinding sand 9,000 feet above ground level!"

After about three months at Kelly AFB, his squadron (along with the 8th Airlift Squadron) was directed to pick-up and move everyone and everything back to McChord Air Force Base as that became the ideal place to stage operations for the Pacific theater for the emerging Korean War. Upon his return, he was immediately sent on temporary duty to Japan for 30 days.

"When I got to Japan, I flew young army Soldiers from the United States into South Korea," he said. "You could tell how well the war was progressing: first we flew in troops, then blood plasma and purple hearts, then boxes for the casualties. On the return trips, we would strip the seats out and put in litters to carry the wounded. The planes were always full both ways."

As the war raged on, my father's 30-day TDY turned into 365 days of constant flying back and forth. This is where he logged a lot of his 8,500 flying hours over his nearly 30-year career. He didn't get a medal; he told me they were just "doing their job." Astoundingly, he would ultimately survive WWII, Korea and Vietnam as a decorated combat veteran pilot flying all over the world.

Our family's role in national defense didn't end there. My uncle,  Master Sgt. (ret.) Fred Coates, would serve as a crew chief for the F-117 "Nighthawk" during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. My deployment to Iraq in 2003 as the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom continued the tradition of family involvement in the profession of arms. Now it is 2010 and as the Deputy Commander for the 62nd Aerial Port Squadron, I'm supporting the 7th Airlift Squadron transporting logistics to the war fighter in Afghanistan--the same squadron my dad flew with in 1950. It has brought a great sense of pride in our family as a tradition of service...then and now.