Shared tears and triumphs define Memorial Day for 920th Rescue Wing commander

Staff Sgt. Brandon Forshaw, pararescueman, 308th Rescue Squadron, along with other colleagues, friends and loved ones, paid final respects to fallen pararescueman Staff Sgt. Carl Enis at Arlington National Cemetery May 21, 2018. In a time-honored tradition, members of the elite Guardian Angel triad of pararescue, press their pararescue flash taken from their maroon berets, into the lid of the casket to honor their fallen teammate. Enis was providing combat rescue support for Inherent Resolve, when he, along with six other Airmen, was killed in an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crash in Anbar Province, Iraq, March 15, 2018. The Guardian Angel triad consists of pararescuemen, combat rescue officers and SERE or survival specialists who are expert swimmers, SCUBA divers, mountain climbers, parachutists, marksmen and trauma medics who are uniquely capable of performing rescues anywhere in the world. The 308th Rescue Squadron is part of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, located in Cocoa Beach, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Brandon Forshaw, pararescueman, 308th Rescue Squadron, along with other colleagues, friends and loved ones, paid final respects to fallen pararescueman Staff Sgt. Carl Enis at Arlington National Cemetery May 21, 2018. In a time-honored tradition, members of the elite Guardian Angel triad of pararescue, press their pararescue flash taken from their maroon berets, into the lid of the casket to honor their fallen teammate. Enis was providing combat rescue support for Inherent Resolve, when he, along with six other Airmen, was killed in an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crash in Anbar Province, Iraq, March 15, 2018. The Guardian Angel triad consists of pararescuemen, combat rescue officers and SERE or survival specialists who are expert swimmers, SCUBA divers, mountain climbers, parachutists, marksmen and trauma medics who are uniquely capable of performing rescues anywhere in the world. The 308th Rescue Squadron is part of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, located in Cocoa Beach, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

The loss of four Airmen throughout 2017-2018 within the 920th Rescue family brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the wing, along with their commander, Col. Kurt A. Matthews, who has seen the scars left by Vietnam in his own family. Matthews was invited to share his thoughts about the special meaning that Memorial Day holds to him and his family on May 28, 2018 at the Brevard Veteran's Center in Merritt Island, Florida. He also paid tribute to the fallen Airmen from his wing, as well as their commander, Lt. Col. Tim Hanks and asked everyone in attendance to keep those serving far away in their thoughts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

The loss of four Airmen throughout 2017-2018 within the 920th Rescue family brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the wing, along with their commander, Col. Kurt A. Matthews, who has seen the scars left by Vietnam in his own family. Matthews was invited to share his thoughts about the special meaning that Memorial Day holds to him and his family on May 28, 2018 at the Brevard Veteran's Center in Merritt Island, Florida. He also paid tribute to the fallen Airmen from his wing, as well as their commander, Lt. Col. Tim Hanks and asked everyone in attendance to keep those serving far away in their thoughts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW.  The rescue community received a major blow when 7 Airmen were killed aboard Jolly 51, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed in Iraq March 15, 2018. Among those killed were pararescuemen, Master Sgt. Bill Posch, 36, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, two men assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron within the 920th RQW. Another loss preceded when a recently retired 920th Operations Group commander and close friend to many, Col. Chris “Sunshine” Hannon, was killed after being struck by a car while bicycling. Five months earlier the grips of post-traumatic stress led Master Sgt. Pete “PJ” Pavenski, an aerial gunner with the 301st Rescue Squadron, to take his own life. “Nothing can fill the void left by the loss of these great men…,” said Matthews.

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW. The rescue community received a major blow when 7 Airmen were killed aboard Jolly 51, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed in Iraq March 15, 2018. Among those killed were pararescuemen, Master Sgt. Bill Posch, 36, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, two men assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron within the 920th RQW. Another loss preceded when a recently retired 920th Operations Group commander and close friend to many, Col. Chris “Sunshine” Hannon, was killed after being struck by a car while bicycling. Five months earlier the grips of post-traumatic stress led Master Sgt. Pete “PJ” Pavenski, an aerial gunner with the 301st Rescue Squadron, to take his own life. “Nothing can fill the void left by the loss of these great men…,” said Matthews.

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW. Matthews honored the lives of four wing members who were lost within the past year, two who were killed in combat March 15, 2018, MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. During the event at the Brevard Veterans Center, Matthews presented the Honor and Sacrifice Flag to Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, to honor the ultimate sacrifice of 308th members Posch and Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW. Matthews honored the lives of four wing members who were lost within the past year, two who were killed in combat March 15, 2018, MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. During the event at the Brevard Veterans Center, Matthews presented the Honor and Sacrifice Flag to Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, to honor the ultimate sacrifice of 308th members Posch and Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, holds an Honor and Sacrifice flag which he was presented during a Memorial Day Service at the Brevard Veterans Center to honor two of his pararescuemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice March 15, 2018 when they were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, holds an Honor and Sacrifice flag which he was presented during a Memorial Day Service at the Brevard Veterans Center to honor two of his pararescuemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice March 15, 2018 when they were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews, shown left, is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW. Matthews honored the lives of four wing members who were lost within the past year, two who were killed in combat March 15, 2018, MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. During the event at the Brevard Veterans Center, Matthews, left; Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, shown center, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, and Hank's wife, Heather Hanks, render a salute to honor the ultimate sacrifice of 308th members Posch and Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews, shown left, is getting ready to attend his fourth burial. The tragedy of the past year brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th RQW. Matthews honored the lives of four wing members who were lost within the past year, two who were killed in combat March 15, 2018, MSgt. Bill Posch and SSgt. Carl Enis. During the event at the Brevard Veterans Center, Matthews, left; Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, shown center, 308th Rescue Squadron commander, and Hank's wife, Heather Hanks, render a salute to honor the ultimate sacrifice of 308th members Posch and Enis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Darrell Hankins)

The loss of four Airmen throughout 2017-2018 within the 920th Rescue family brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the wing, along with their commander, Col. Kurt A. Matthews, who has seen the scars left by Vietnam in his own family. Matthews uncle, Marine Private 1st Class Aitken "Kenny" Matthews, was killed in Vietnam February 14, 1967, two years after joining the Marines. Matthews' dad had the difficult job of escorting him back to their hometown of Miami for his memorial service and to be laid to rest. (Courtesy photo)

The loss of four Airmen throughout 2017-2018 within the 920th Rescue family brought Memorial Day 2018 into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the wing, along with their commander, Col. Kurt A. Matthews, who has seen the scars left by Vietnam in his own family. Matthews uncle, Marine Private 1st Class Aitken "Kenny" Matthews, was killed in Vietnam February 14, 1967, two years after joining the Marines. Matthews' dad had the difficult job of escorting him back to their hometown of Miami for his memorial service and to be laid to rest. (Courtesy photo)

Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, left, poses with his dad, Maj. George Matthews, Ret., a Vietnam pilot who was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics. The two men attended the Traveling Vietnam Wall in Melbourne, Florida, April 16, 2018, where Kurt Matthews was asked to speak. Kurt shared the heroics of Airmen within his wing, as well as his dad's. George Matthews flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (Courtesy photo)

Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, left, poses with his dad, Maj. George Matthews, Ret., a Vietnam pilot who was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics. The two men attended the Traveling Vietnam Wall in Melbourne, Florida, April 16, 2018, where Kurt Matthews was asked to speak. Kurt shared the heroics of Airmen within his wing, as well as his dad's. George Matthews flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (Courtesy photo)

Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, has always honored fallen servicemembers on Memorial Day due to the scars of war he has seen on his father George. Maj. George Matthews, Ret., is a decorated war hero. He flew as a Vietnam pilot and was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics. George flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Cathleen Snow)

Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, has always honored fallen servicemembers on Memorial Day due to the scars of war he has seen on his father George. Maj. George Matthews, Ret., is a decorated war hero. He flew as a Vietnam pilot and was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics. George flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Cathleen Snow)

Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, learned the meaning of Memorial Day from the scars his father, Maj. George Matthews, Ret., wears. George was a Vietnam pilot who was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics in Vietnam. George Matthews flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (Photo Illustration by Maj. Cathleen Snow)
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Col. Kurt A. Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander, learned the meaning of Memorial Day from the scars his father, Maj. George Matthews, Ret., wears. George was a Vietnam pilot who was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics in Vietnam. George Matthews flew fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia to halt war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail from Dec. 1966 - Oct. 1967. George lost his brother Aitken "Kenny" Matthews in Vietnam the previous year on Feb. 14, 1966. George instilled in Kurt at a young age the meaning of Memorial Day. George visits 13 friends whose names are on the wall. (Photo Illustration by Maj. Cathleen Snow)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Florida --

A year-and-a-half into commanding the 920th Rescue Wing and Col. Kurt A. Matthews is getting ready to attend his fourth burial.  

 

Tragedies of the past year brought Memorial Day into perspective for 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that serve with the 920th Rescue Wing, along with Matthews, who has seen the scars left by Vietnam in his own family.  

 

The harsh reality of the pararescue motto; “these things we do, that others may live”, serves as a Memorial Day reminder for the Air Force Reserve wing that is uniquely capable of performing amazing feats to save lives.

 

The 920th RQW’s annual flight plan portfolio logged two 1,000-mile roundtrips over the vast sea to save two men whose sailboat caught fire and sunk, and a cruise ship passenger who became gravely ill—a trek to Texas to evacuate 235 citizens displaced by the ravages of hurricane Harvey—and several stints up Oregonian mountains to pick up hikers trapped by weather events—all the while surpassing the intense scrutiny of an inspection and sending multiple personnel out the door to combat.

 

Checking off these seemingly immortal feats led to multiple accolades and awards for rescue warriors to celebrate, like the Power and Vigilance Award; the Jolly Green Association Rescue of the Year Award and the Medal of Honor on Ribbon for Rescue Missions at Sea in Gold, but tears brought on by tragic news of loss, dignified transfers, memorials and burials of fellow Airmen, were shed along the way.

 

The rescue community received a major blow when 7 Airmen were killed aboard Jolly 51, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed in Iraq March 15, 2018. Among those killed were pararescuemen, Master Sgt. Bill Posch, 36, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, two men assigned to the 308th Rescue Squadron within the 920th RQW. Currently, the majority of the 100-person squadron of elite special operators remain deployed throughout the Middle East.

 

Another loss preceded when a recently retired 920th Operations Group commander and close friend to many, Col. Chris “Sunshine” Hannon, was killed after being struck by a car while bicycling. After years of flying dangerous combat rescue missions in helicopters throughout Afghanistan, it was hard to comprehend how a highly decorated athletic 57-year-old veteran and avid bicyclist could be here one day, and gone the next.

 

Five months earlier the grips of post-traumatic stress led Master Sgt. Pete “PJ” Pavenski, an aerial gunner with the 301st Rescue Squadron, to take his own life.

 

“Nothing can fill the void left by the loss of these great men…,” said Matthews, a third generation pilot whose father, George, joined the Air Force in 1955, as the Vietnam War was revving up.  George took his dad’s commercial flying career to a new level with his commitment to serve his country--paving the way for Kurt.

 

At an early age, George instilled in Kurt the importance of honoring our servicemen and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. “We as a family have always honored our fallen. It’s part of a family tradition,” said George Matthews.

 

Twelve years into George Matthews’ Air Force career, he chalked up a number of different assignments, but still none in combat.  However, in 1964 George’s little brother, Aitken “Kenny” Matthews, 19, joined the Marines and was shipped off to Vietnam two years later. At the time, George was flying C-121s out of McClellan Air Force Base, California. Then, he received tragic news that his little brother was killed in combat.  The Marines asked George if he would escort Kenny’s body home for his dignified transfer. George readily accepted.

 

“It was the most difficult and saddest mission I ever had to do,” said George with tears welling up in his eyes, but he was honored to do it.

 

He wore his Class-A service dress and showed up in San Francisco to take his little brother back to their hometown, Miami, Florida. Upon his return, the indelible image of their mother hugging Kenny’s casket is seared into George’s memory.  Kenny was laid to rest at Miami’s Memorial Gardens Cemetery with full military honors and George had another difficult job—to present his parents with his little brother’s flag.

 

George went back to work flying missions out of California, but received orders to Vietnam three months later. He was soon flying fighter-bomber missions in the A-26 Invader over Southeast Asia. It was his job to stop war supplies being transported along the Ho Chi Minh trail. On the one year anniversary of his brother’s death, February 14, 1967, George ensured the enemy felt the full effect of his lost brother.

 

“I flew with a special purpose that day,” said George.

 

During his 11 months in Vietnam, four aircraft from his unit were shot down losing both of the two crew members (pilot and co-pilot) aboard each aircraft and he earned the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic actions.

 

George redeployed back home in October 1967. Nine months later he and his wife Carolyn gave birth to their second child, Kurt, on Sept. 11, 1968. They have three children in all. He went on to retire after 20 years of service.

 

“I’ve participated in Memorial Day ceremonies, but it gets harder to go,” said George, “I always honor those men and women who will never come back. We should be grateful they lived. We honor them for what they did for us, rather than mourn them.”

 

When Master Sergeant Posch’s remains were brought back to Patrick Air Force Base, “It was really tough, said George, “I saluted the casket as it went by,” he said as the memories of his brother flooded back. “The older I get, the closer the emotions come to the surface,” said George. “My brother is right there at the top.”

 

“This Memorial Day means a lot, not only for the nation, but for my family and our rescue family,” said Matthews.  “I was glad I got to spend it with my father, and with the 308th Rescue Squadron Commander, (Lt. Col.) Tim Hanks.”  Colonel Matthews was invited to speak at the Brevard Veterans Center in Merritt Island, Florida, where he presented an honorary flag to the 308th RQS and officially added MSgt. William Posch’s and SSgt. Carl Enis’ names to the center’s memorial.

 

“Today is a day in which we should remember the joy, the laughter, the magnanimous life of Bill and Carl and the entire crew of Jolly 51. Today is another day in our healing process for family, friends, teammates and the community. It is a day in which we recognize the pain is real and still raw, but it is also the day we celebrate the lives of our fallen heroes,” said Lt. Col. Tim Hanks, 308th RQS commander, during memorial services for the 920th’s two fallen rescue heroes.