As were countless others of his World War II generation, the life of Henry “Hank” Skubik was shaped by the advent of aviation and the cataclysms of the early 20th century — Europe’s World War I economic devastation, the 1929 Wall Street crash, and the blitz of Nazism across the continent.
Skubik, a Czech immigrant’s son who piloted B-17 bombers over Germany during World War II, was shot down during his 28th mission in 1945, and spent the remainder of the war battling cold and hunger in a prison camp, died of natural causes on Jan. 3 at an assisted living facility in Englewood, Florida.
He was 94, and lived in Massapequa until October.
Born in 1923, Henry Skubik grew up on Manhattan’s East 72nd Street, the son of a sparsely educated Czech mechanic, who three years earlier had fled the collapse of the Austria-Hungary Empire.
His father had achieved a small measure of prosperity by establishing a factory sewing machine repair business in lower Manhattan, and was eventually able to buy a car and a large house in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. When Skubik was a small child, his father arranged for a barnstorming pilot to convey him aloft in an open-cockpit biplane — a thrill that hooked Skubik on flying.
But the stock market crash shattered his father’s business. The house and car were lost, and his father died of pneumonia in 1936, when Skubik was just 12.
He eventually quit high school to take a job cutting blueprints at a Bendix Aviation facility, where he met co-worker Kaye Schack, the woman he would marry in 1945.
Aviation losses during the first months of World War II meant the Army needed pilots. Seeing the military as a path out of economic hardship, he enlisted as a cadet in 1942.
“I realized that the Army Air Force was my only ticket to a better life tho not without some risk,” Skubik wrote in a 1985 memoir, penned in longhand.
He served with the 8th Air Force, based in Nuthampstead, England.
His pilot’s log books provide a glimpse of the war’s large-scale deaths. In an entry documenting his first bombing mission, he described being assigned to the “low or Purple Heart Corner,” so named because that position in a bombing formation suffered the highest casualty rates.
On his last mission, Skubik was shot down over Mannheim, Germany, on Jan. 20, 1945, parachuted onto a frozen lake, and was captured immediately.
He was a prisoner at Stalag VII A when allied tanks liberated the camp in April 1945. Discharged from active duty that October, he remained in the Air Force Reserve until he retired with the rank of captain in 1963.
After the war, he worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, retiring in 1978 as a regional director for air traffic control, based at Kennedy International Airport.
Survivors include his son, Gary Skubik, of Englewood, and daughter Karen Skubik, of Wooster, Ohio. Two of Skubik’s grandsons are pilots, as is his son.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Massapequa Funeral Home South Chapel in Massapequa Park. Skubik is to be buried with military honors at Calverton National Cemetery alongside his wife, who died in 2011.