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Lance Edward Massey

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Lance Edward Massey
Lance Edward Massey.jpg
Lt Cdr Massey at NAS Ford Island on 24 May 1942. The victory flag marking on his TBD Devastator represents a Japanese ship he sank at Kwajalein during the Marshalls-Gilberts raids.
Born(1909-09-20)September 20, 1909
Syracuse, New York, United States
DiedJune 4, 1942(1942-06-04) (aged 32)
Service/branchUnited States Navy
RankLieutenant commander
Commands heldTorpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3)
Battles/warsWorld War II
  • Marshalls-Gilberts raids
  • Battle of Midway
  • Navy Cross[1]
  • Distinguished Flying Cross [1]
  • Purple Heart[2]

Lance Edward "Lem" Massey (20 September 1909 – 4 June 1942) was a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II.

He was a native of Syracuse, New York, and was the only child of Walter Griffith Massey and Florence Lance Massey. Growing up in Watertown, New York, he attended two years of high school in Watertown, and then entered Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland, in 1925. After graduating from Severn in 1926, he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy when he was sixteen.[1]

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1930, he was given his commission as an ensign, and he was ordered to the battleship USS Texas (BB-35). After serving for a year aboard the Texas he entered flight training in Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1931 and won his Naval Aviator wings in January 1932. He was assigned to Scouting Squadron 3 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) for the next three years. He subsequently served a two-year tour at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida as a flight instructor. While at Pensacola, he married Marjorie Drake Kelsey, the widow of Lieutenant (j.g.) James Kelsey, a 1931 graduate of the US Naval Academy. In June 1937, Lieutenant (jg) Massey reported to Observation Squadron 3 aboard the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40), whose home port was Long Beach, California. In August 1937, he was promoted to lieutenant. In January 1940, Observation Squadron Three was transferred to the USS Idaho (BB-42), where he stayed until July 1940, when he was sent to Naval Air Station, Pensacola. In October 1941, he was reassigned to the USS Enterprise (CV-6) as the Executive Officer of Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6), the post he held at the time the United States was attacked by Japan in December 1941.

He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in January 1942. His sole combat mission from Enterprise occurred on 1 February 1942, during the Marshalls-Gilberts raids, when he led VT-3's Second Division in the first airborne torpedo attack in U.S. Naval history. His nine TBD torpedo bombers attacked Japanese shipping at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, with Massey personally sinking the 18,000-ton Japanese transport Bordeaux Maru. For this action, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[3][page needed][4][5][page needed]


On 14 April 1942, he took command of Torpedo Squadron Three (VT-3) aboard USS Saratoga (CV-3), then based at Kaneohe Naval Air Station. On 27 May 1942, VT-3 was transferred to USS Yorktown (CV-5) following the Battle of the Coral Sea, replacing that ship's own Torpedo Squadron 5 (VT-5). Yorktown sailed with VT-3 for Midway Island and entered battle on 4 June 1942. During this crucial encounter, Massey was killed while leading his squadron in a low-level attack against the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryū. He was last seen

"standing up in his open cockpit, with one foot on the stub wing and the other on the seat, as his TBD dropped toward the water 250 feet below. The skipper did not have the altitude to survive the jump from his flaming wreck."[6]

Escorted by only six F4F Wildcat fighters, led by Lieutenant Commander John Thach,[7] ten out of VT-3's twelve TBD's were lost. For his heroism in pursuing the attack on Hiryu, Massey was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.[8][1]

In memory of his actions at the Battle of Midway, the U.S. Navy commissioned the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Massey (DD-778) on 24 November 1944.[9] In addition to his widow Marjorie, he was survived by two sons, CMDR Lance Bradford Massey (USN, Ret.) and Walter Drake Massey.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Massey was depicted in the 1976 war film Midway by actor Steve Kanaly.

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Avenue of Heroes: Lt. Commander Lance E. Massey". coronadotimes.com. 20 January 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  2. Lance Edward Massey, NY State Senate, 28 May 2010, retrieved 13 Mar 2016
  3. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Volume 4. Depart of the Navy. 2003. ISBN 978-0713040517. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. William Ward Smith. Midway: Turning Point of the Pacific. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png[page needed]
  5. Peter Charles Smith (2007). Midway: Dauntless Victory : Fresh Perspectives on America's Seminal Naval Victory of World War II. ISBN 978-1844155835. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  6. "What Do China's Military Strategists Think of the Battle of Midway?". nationalinterest.org. 4 June 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  7. Admiral John S. “Jimmie” Thach, U.S. Navy (Retired) (June 2007), "Flying into a Beehive: Fighting Three at Midway", Naval History Magazine, U.S. Naval Institute, 21 (3), retrieved 20 Apr 2016
  8. Valor awards for Lance Edward Massey, Military Times Hall of Valor, retrieved 20 Apr 2016
  9. "Massey (DD-778)". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 30 March 2021.

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