20 September 1909 – 4 June 1942

Lance E. Massey was born in Syracuse, New York on 20 September 1909; the only child of Walter Griffith Massey and Florence Lance Massey. He was raised in Watertown, New York, which had been founded by his great great grandfather, Hart Massey, in 1800. After two years of high school in Watertown, he entered Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland in the Fall of 1925. Graduating from Severn in 1926, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at the age of sixteen.

Four years later he graduated from the Naval Academy with the Class of 1930, was commissioned an Ensign, and assigned to the battleship USS Texas. In 1931 he entered flight training in Pensacola, Florida earning his Naval Aviator wings of gold in January 1932. For the next three years he was assigned to Scouting Squadron 3 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and as ship’s company on Lexington. There followed a two-year tour in Pensacola, Florida as a Flight Instructor. It was during this period that he married Marjorie Drake Kelsey, widow of Lieutenant (junior grade) James Kelsey, USNA Class of 1931. In June 1937 Lt(jg) Massey reported to Observation Squadron 3 on the battleship USS New Mexico out of Long Beach, California. He was promoted to Lieutenant in August 1937. His squadron was transferred to the battleship USS Idaho in January 1940 where he remained until July when he was reassigned to Pensacola, Florida. In October 1941 he became the Executive Officer of Torpedo Squadron 6 on USS Enterprise and was in this squadron when the United States entered the war against Japan.

In January 1942, he was appointed Lieutenant Commander. The next seven months were extremely critical for the U.S. Navy carrier forces in the Pacific. Lance Massey participated in several major events of that period. On 1 February 1942, he led a group of 9 torpedo planes in the first airborne torpedo attack executed by the U.S. Navy. This action against Japanese surface vessels at Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands resulted in his sinking of an 18,00 ton Japanese transport. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The following month USS Enterprise and embarked airwing escorted the USS Hornet for General Doolittle’s famous bombing raid on Tokyo, Japan. He took command of Torpedo Squadron 3 on 14 April 1942. In June his squadron was aboard USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway. It was during this pivotal battle that he lost his life leading his squadron in an attack on the Japanese carrier forces. His squadron lost 10 of 12 aircraft in the attack. Lieutenant Commander Massey was awarded the Navy Cross for his part in the destruction of the Japanese force.

On 19 August 1944, the U.S. Navy christened a destroyer in his name, USS MASSEY (DD-778). His widow Marjorie Massey christened the ship (picture at left). Also in the picture are Esther Kepler (far left), who christened the ship named for her husband (DD-765) and Mrs. Eleanor Fox who christened the ship named for her husband (DD-779).

Lance E. Massey had two sons, Lance Bradford Massey (born 21 September 1936) and Walter Drake Massey (born 14 December 1937); both whom graduated from Severn School. Lance B. Massey graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and retired as a Commander in 1984.

6 thoughts on “Biography of LCDR Lance E. Massey, USN”

  • Sharon Woodville says:

    my uncle ENS Leonard L. Smith served with CDR Lance Massey during the battle of Midway. My uncle was a bomber pilot with VT-3 who also lost his life during day. He is officially MIA presumed KIA. I would love to hear from anyone who has more information on that day. I have been researching. God Bless all of them and the courage they had that day.

  • John Yeats says:

    I served under LCDR Lance B. Massey with VA-164 in 1968-69 aboard the USS Hancock CVA-19. He was the Admin Officer for the squadron, and I worked in the Admin Office as a YN-3.

  • Dave Massey says:

    Do you still have the painting. If so could you let me know, and your asking price.

    Dave Massey

  • Robert "Bob" E. Proctor, USN, Retired says:

    While living in Virginia Beach and before I retired after 30 years from the US Navy in 1985 , my wife attended an estate sale near the beachfront and purchased an oil painting. It is of a pilot flying in an SBU-1 (tail nr 9816). On the side of the plane, below the cockpit and in the wing’s shadow, is a red emblem of a Indian Chief which would make this aircraft a member of Squardon 3. Below is an aircraft carrier streaming in a bay near what looks like an air strip, probably North Island San Diego. On the back is a taped note stating “Lt(jg) Massey in SBU-1 of US Squardon 3 from carrier (CV3) (sic) USS Lexington 1936” I’m sure the CV3 was really CV2 if it’s the Lady Lex because CV3 was USS Saratoga. The oil is done on hard canvas board and the painter was a David Heller (I believe the first letter is an H). We now live in Kodak Tennessee near Knoxville and I showed the painting to Joe Rossen of PBS’s Antiques in Your Attic. He claims the painting is worth well OVER the $400 asking price I have on it because of the taped history on the back. If the association is interested in purchasing this painting please email me, the price is negotiatable. It’s about 11in X 7 1/4 in and is in the original frame and glass when she purchased it (not an attractive frame though). I tried contacting the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola but received no response. Thank you.

  • Patrick Hart says:


    My name is Patrick E. Hart. Patrick Henry Hart served in the same squadron 3 with LCDR Lance E. Massey. It would be very interesting to talk with any of the decendents of LCDR Massey. My email is faithfullove@q.com or phone 575 538-3332.

  • Joe Douds says:

    ” It was during this pivotal battle that he lost his life leading his squadron in an attack on the Japanese carrier forces.”

    I don’t believe he “lost” anything. However, he “gave” everything.

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