Marine One pilot is Salem native

By Tom Dalton
Staff writer

Instead of taking the president directly to Andrews Air Force Base for the flight home to Texas, the pilot decided to give Bush a “victory lap” over the National Mall, which was packed with an estimated 2 million people.

“I kind of made that decision on my own,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Ray L’Heureux, who grew up on Beckford Street in Salem, the third of seven children of Roger and Virginia L’Heureux.

“First of all, it was very, very nostalgic for me to fly the last flight of a president we have all loved,” said L’Heureux, 47, commander of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, based in Quantico, Va.

“He is our commander in chief, and it had to be nostalgic for him, as well. … I just thought with all the excitement down below it would be kind of a neat thing to put all that excitement out his left window.”

L’Heureux, who went to the former Bowditch Elementary School and Salem High, has been Bush’s personal pilot for the past 18 months of a two-year command. He flew Bush to Camp David for weekend getaways, around his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and all over the world.

“We accompany the president wherever he goes globally,” he said.

That has meant trips to England, Germany, Romania and Poland — and also Iraq and Afghanistan. While the president flies over in Air Force One, the Marine One helicopter is flown in parts and then reassembled overseas.

“We will break (it down), and stuff the helicopter in the back of big cargo jets,” he said.

While flying about 90 percent of Bush’s official presidential trips, L’Heureux has gotten to know the man who has led this country for the past eight years.

“He is just an absolutely wonderful man,” he said. “He has treated all of us within the White House military office very kindly and very graciously. You can tell on his face, or just when he deals with you, his affection for us in uniform, and that’s across the broad spectrum. … He just has a very, very warm affinity for all of us.”

On Tuesday, L’Heureux flew the helicopter to the Capitol grounds early in the morning, landing around 7 a.m. “We had already flown down the mall just prior to that,” he said. “It already was starting to get very crowded.”

As soon as President Barack Obama finished his inaugural address, L’Heureux got into Marine One and started it up. In addition to the president and Laura Bush, passengers included their two daughters, a son-in-law, and former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.

“(Bush) was talking mostly to his family, and I was busy flying,” L’Heureux said.

L’Heureux stressed that he doesn’t perform this awesome task by himself. He is one man in a large squadron. “I’ve got about 750 other Marines that help me do it,” he said.

Now that Bush has gone home to Texas, L’Heureux will be flying a new boss named Obama.

“We fly the president, whoever happens to be the president,” he said. “… I’m sure he’s a great guy. And, like I said, we’re a service provider and the squadron is absolutely looking forward to supporting our next president.”

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    >Colonel Raymond F. L'Heureux

    Colonel L’Heureux enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 1980. After completing recruit training, he reported to B Co 25th Marines Manchester, New Hampshire. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in August 1983 after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from Nathaniel Hawthorne College in Antrim, New Hampshire. Following The Basic School, he attended flight training at NAS Whiting Field where he was designated a Naval Aviator and Helicopter Pilot in May 1986.

    He was subsequently ordered to HMT-301 at MCAS Tustin for training in the CH-53A/D Sea Stallion. After designation as a copilot, he was assigned to HMH-363 where he worked as the Flight Officer and earned his designation as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander. While deployed for his third consecutive time with HMH-363 as part of the Unit Deployment Program, Colonel L’Heureux flew as a Detachment Commander as part of MAGTF 3-90 for 11 months of humanitarian assistance and contingency operations in support of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

    Upon completion of Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia in 1991, he was accepted to serve with Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), where he held billets as Operations Duty Officer and White House Liaison Officer. Colonel L’Heureux’s next assignment was to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Aviation Support Element, MCB Hawaii for duty with HMH-463, where he served as Operations Officer and Maintenance Officer. While serving as Operations Officer, HMH-463 attached to the 31st MEU for three months aboard the USS New Orleans for Operation TANDEM THRUST off the northeastern coast of Australia.

    After completing Marine Corps Command and Staff College, he was ordered to the United States Pacific Command, Camp Smith, Hawaii. During his last year at the US Pacific Command, he served as the Deputy Executive Assistant to the Commander, US Pacific Command before being assigned to MAG-24 in preparation to assume command of the HMH-362 Ugly Angels. Colonel L’Heureux led the Ugly Angels through their second unit deployment to Iwakuni, Japan, participating in exercises Balikatan and Talon Vision in the Republic of the Philippines and operations in Okinawa, Japan and Osan, South Korea. After completion of his command, Colonel L’Heureux served as the Executive Officer of MAG-24 until transferred to Stratford, Connecticut for assignment as a Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

    In July of 2006, Colonel L’Heureux again reported to HMX-1 in preparation to assume command.