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"I was pretty arrogant, I was pretty cocky, I thought I was God's gift to Marine aviation." (Video Interview, 31:44)

   Roland Liles Massey
Collection image
Roland Massey [detail from video]
War: Cold War
Branch: Marine Corps
Unit: HMM-264 (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron); HMM 262; HMM-266; HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron 1)
Service Location: United States; Mediterranean; West Pacific; Beirut; Lebanon
Rank: Major
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Roland Massey's career as a Marine pilot spanned the closing days of the Cold War. He had gone to college before he enlisted and quickly learned valuable lessons in teamwork during his stint at Officer Candidate School. In assignments ranging from Lebanon to Hawaii, Massey took pride in his skill and was eventually rewarded at the end of his career by co-piloting the Marine 1 helicopter for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (14 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (144 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (14 items)
Reasons for joining Marines; more a spirit of adventure; older brother was a Marine; his aggressive interest in Marines almost scared off recruiter; family and friends skeptical of his plan; a friend already in Marine aviation advised him to get an aviation guarantee when he did sign up. (03:29) Had a big ego, which changed when he came to understand that it wasn't about him, it was about teamwork and a long-term commitment. (01:01) "Great mix" of people in OCS, including a women's platoon, nicknamed "powder puff;" they stood up and got the job done; people who were desperate to be a part of it, including one guy with a broken foot who wouldn't tell anyone about it; their platoon sergeant had a heart attack, broke everyone's hearts. (02:06)
Early instructor teaching him to be prepared for the unexpected; during instruction flight, instructor jerking the plane back and forth to make Massey pay attention to where he was; in his first flight in helicopter, getting another rude lesson. (03:42) Learning to "hover" the helicopter; matter of hand-eye coordination and not "white-knuckling" the control knob. (01:53) His first-ever solo flight; big on patterns and numbers; tried to go through numbers by talking everything out as if the instructor were in the back seat; finally realized he was talking to himself. (01:28)
Went into an H-46 helicopter squadron because it was closest to the ground, supporting units there. (01:16) Making a parts run to Cairo, Egypt; pretending to be lost as an excuse to swing by the Pyramids. (01:13) Instructors you would follow into hell because they were willing to teach you tough lessons in both aviation and life. (01:00)
264 Squadron on a boat off Lebanon, when US Marines were in the city; was there when embassy was bombed; barracks bombing came later; they had been in and out of that building; flying over city, it looked like London after the Blitz. (02:48) Old friend comes to him with possibility of coming to HMX, the Presidential flying fleet; saw himself as a tactical flyer, didn't want to "worry about spilling martinis in the back;" enjoyed teaching but the "sparkle" of Presidential flying finally grabbed him. (01:58) Difficult time in Hawaii, on second deployment, doing evasive maneuvers, in flight of three, two helicopters collided; it was his introduction to "that smoking hole in the ground," shorthand for casualties; "you think about combat losses, but you don't think about training losses;" reflections on another training death while in Hawaii and an accident involving a helicopter carrying Korean Marines, with a freak minor casualty. (08:13)
Flying Presidents; aircraft changed out every 750 miles; squadron not as closely knit as tactical squadron; staying in hotels; over 4 years, blessed with serving with good people; "white top" aircraft was the Presidential craft; getting security clearance took 8 months to a year; prior to that, flew in support aircraft; learning how to fly two different aircraft to become a co-pilot in the white top; flying Vice President Quayle and professional golfers to a course; chain of command in flying these craft. (12:30) At Camp David one weekend; got short notice they would be leaving in two hours; word was this was start of ground warfare in Persian Gulf; understanding the burden on the President in a moment like this; serving the office of the President rather than an individual; sense of the value of his service, even if it did not involve combat. (09:07) 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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