Veteran celebrates 100 years

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Lonnie Massey served his country and helped make history, and on Friday he celebrated his 100th birthday at Concordia Transitional Care and Rehabilitation—Nansemond Pointe, with family, cake and plenty of stories.

“Even though he might repeat some of his stories sometimes, they’re very interesting,” said Massey’s granddaughter, Meredith, 19. He was also joined by his son, Robert, daughter-in-law, Catherine, and other granddaughters, Olivia, 17, and Caroline, 14. “I wish I had listened to more of his stories when I was younger, so he would have more memory of them and stuff.”

Massey was born on Nov. 23, 1918, in Delta County, Texas, the oldest of Mann and Leeola Massey’s three children. He graduated from Cooper High School in 1937, and his memories are filled with the various jobs he held — mainly auto repair and farming — in his busy schedule as a teenager.

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But his lifelong passion has been electronics, which he cultivated over a long military career that began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1938. His specialty is in radio communications, building and operating radio transmitters and receivers, and much more.

“At one point he probably knew more about radio communications than anybody, literally,” said his son Robert.

Massey served on the USS Northampton heavy cruiser during World War II, where his skills in Morse code, radio theory and electronics came in handy, according to a proclamation written by his nephew, Ken Massey, the Mayor of the City of Farmington Hills.

He and his crewmates served with the III Marine Amphibious Corps at the battles of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Okinawa, Kwajalein, Saipan and Guam.

“Service wasn’t easy. You (worked) like hell,” Massey said. “Our job on the Northampton … was to get off, go in and kill everything that walked — even the mosquitoes — and that’s what we did.”

He was also involved in top-secret operations, such as when he was selected to be a radio relay platoon instructor and helped train the original Navajo Code Talkers.

“Some of them had never seen radios on the reservation, and here they are trained by Uncle Sam,” Robert said about his father’s experience training those code talkers. “He was picked for that top-secret (assignment) and until recently he kept that under his hat.”

During the Korean War, Massey was awarded the Bronze Star with oak leaf clusters for “his vital work maintaining constant and uninterrupted radio communications between all Marine companies and serving as an inspiration to his fellow platoon members,” his nephew Ken Massey wrote.

“I taught the boys about the electronics part,” Massey said before rattling off each component from memory. “Some of them sort of got tired of me talking (about) all that, but I didn’t care. I was putting out as much as I could.”

After retiring as a captain at Marine Air Wing, Massey began his second successful career with the civil service as a communications field engineer, traveling to U.S. Naval Transmitter Bases around the world.

“For someone from a small town where there was very little education, he’s contributed quite a bit,” his daughter-in-law, Catherine, said.

Massey said some of his favorites places worldwide were in Australia and southern Spain, where the people were wonderful, honest and helpful. His travels eventually led him to his late wife, Iris, whom he met in Northern Ireland. They were married for 47 years.

“I think I’ve just learned like a lot from him,” his granddaughter Caroline said. Granddaughter Meredith said he’s inspired her to study abroad.