Lance Edward Massey Lt Cdr USN
September 20, 1909 – June 4, 1942
‘Lem’ Massey always had a smile on his face.
Commander of Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT 3) at Battle of Midway, Massey was accepted into the Naval Academy at age 16, graduating in 1930 and commissioned an Ensign. “The Academy’s yearbook describes him as having a persistent smile, even during drills, where smiling was frowned upon. Massey’s amicability manifested in his subsequent career with the Navy, too, and persisted as one of his defining features according to the people who served with him.” *
First sea duty for a year on USS Texas (BB 35), then to Pensacola for Naval Air training winning his wings in January 1932. For the next three years he served with Scouting Squadron 3 (Scouting Three) aboard the Lexington (CV 2), then a Flight Instructor at Pensacola for two years. In what must have been boring duty he served in Observation Squadron 2 (OS2) on US New Mexico (BB 45). Squadron 2 was transferred to USS Idaho (BB 42) after which Massey reported back to Pensacola in July 1940. In October 1941 Massey reported to USS Enterprise (CV 6) as Exec of Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT 6).
Before Midway, Massey’s VT 6 made the USN’s first torpedo attack at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking an 18000 ton merchantman.
On April 14,1942 Lt Cdr Massey was given command of Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT 3). The Squadron transferred to USS Enterprise (CV 6) in the third week of May 1942. On June 4,1942 Enterprise launched Torpedo 3 as part of a strike against Japanese carriers. Massey was shot down and killed by a CAP Zero (despite a Wildcat escort lead by John Thatch) during a run against IJN Soryu. Of the twelve Devastators (TBD) torpedo bombers of VT 6, ten were shot down with crews lost.
John S. (Jimmy) Thatch: “Lieutenant Commander Lance “Lem” Massey, commanding officer of Torpedo Squadron (VT) -3, suggested that we have a conference. I’d talked a bit to Lem before that and told him I thought the fighter escort should go with him instead of with the dive bombers. He said, “I think you ought to get up with the dive bombers because that’s where the Zeros are going to be. That’s where they were in the Coral Sea battle.” We knew we weren’t going to have enough fighters to send with each.” Max Leslie said he thought that I should go with the torpedo planes. I said, “How about letting me decide?” because they were playing Alphonse and Gaston, trying to give the fighters to the other squadron. I decided that, since in the Coral Sea battle the torpedo planes had gotten in pretty much unopposed and done the work in sinking these ships, the Japanese would be more concerned about them. They were going to be very concerned about a torpedo attack, and they’re going to try to knock it out. So we all agreed that I would go with VT-3.
“We had to do S turns, to slow down so we wouldn’t run away from the TBDs because they were so slow, and we didn’t want to be stalling along with no ability to maneuver in case something hit us before we anticipated it.” During the run on IJN CV Soryu,“Several Zeros came in on a head-on attack on the torpedo planes and burned Lem Massey’s plane right away. It just exploded in flames.”
Was the decision to cover the torpedo planes the right one? Oh, yes. These torpedo pilots were all my very close friends, Lem Massey especially, and he was lost. “As the smoke cleared, Massey was officially reported missing in action and, a day later, he was presumed dead. For this ultimate sacrifice in the effort to hit and sink as many Japanese carriers as possible, Massey received the Navy Cross and the Purple Heartmedal. In 1944, the Navy named destroyer USS Massey (DD-778) in his honor.”**
Naval History Magazine June 2007 Vol.21 No.3