Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Mini-Review of "Inside Marine One" by Col. Ray "French" L'Heureux and Lee Kelly
USMC Colonel (Retired) Ray "Frenchy" L'Heureux has written a wonderful memoir about his distinguished career flying four U.S. Presidents aboard the helicopter known as Marine One. Lee Kelly served as his co-writer in telling the story of an illustrious career as a Marine aviator.
Despite the fact that I did not serve in the military, I found much to relate to in Col;. L'Heureux's richly told account. He begins the story of his fascination with aviation in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, a quick helicopter flight from where I am sitting in Cambridge. His first flight was from Beverly Airport, where I would sometimes rent single engine planes during my graduate school days on the North Shore. His base of operations as part of HMX-1 was Quantico, Virginia. A few yeas ago, I was among a group of citizens given a tour of the HMX-1 facilities. He also describes riding inside a C-17 transport in moving a "lift load" of helicopters and personnel in support of a Presidential trip overseas. Having had the experience myself of riding in the cargo bay of one of the amazing C-17s, I was able to picture the long journey across the Atlantic.
The tone of the book is humble in terms of describing his own prodigious achievements, and respectful in terms of describing his fellow Marines and the Presidents he was privileged to serve. While he is fair and even-handed in relating positive things about each of the Presidents he served - Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama, it is clear that he formed the strongest personal bond with George W. Bush. The anecdotes about riding mountain bikes with the President at Camp David and at the ranch in Crawford, Texas reveal a great deal about Col. L'Heureux and the President who called him affectionately "The Frenchman."
In the course of sharing the story of his personal career, he throws a light on a part of our military that is often visible to the public, but little appreciated. The complexities of running HMX-1 and serving as the President's personal helicopter pilot involve a dizzying coordination of overlapping systems and teams of support personnel - on the ground and in the air. As someone who has lived and worked in the Washington, D.C. area, I became accustomed to seeing Marine One flying to and from the White House. Until reading this book, I had little understanding of what it takes to keep it and the President flying safely and securely.
This is a book that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves aviation, the military and a good yarn.
In an earlier Blog piece, I recounted my visited to HMX-1 Headquarters in Quantico. The link to this article can be found below:
White Rhino Report.: HMX-1