DOE Asst. Superintendent details experience as former presidential pilot
It's not every day you meet someone who's served under four presidents and been responsible for their lives.
It's next to never you learn that person's been right here serving the people of Hawaii too.
The Department of Education's Assistant Superintendent Ray L'Heureux details the experience in his new book out on his former life as the pilot for "Marine One."
It's called "Inside Marine One: Four U.S. Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World's Most Amazing Helicopter."
"I was absolutely fascinated by airplanes. The next logical step is how do you fly them?" said L'Heureux.
A Boston boy with a big family and an unmistakable passion, L'Heureux longed to fly. It was too expensive to learn privately, but the military offered a runway to his dream.
"Something funny happened on the way to the bank as they say. I discovered that I joined this fraternity that was just fun," said L'Heureux.
It was a soon to be elite fraternity.
The HMX-1 Squadron is a group of only the experienced, the unflappable people who were allowed to pilot the Commander in Chief.
"It gave me the opportunity to be involved and engaged and fly the last four presidents," said L'Heureux.
He rose in the ranks from captain to the highest-ranking marine chopper pilot in the U.S.
"What makes this helicopter the most unique or most amazing is the mission that is has," said L'Heureux.
With no room for error, every flight was called "Zero Fail."
First he flew for President George H.W. Bush, who he describes as warm, humble, and frequent visitors of Camp David.
Next he flew Bill Clinton for eight years, whose family usually spent Christmas at Camp David.
Then it was President George W. Bush. L'Heureux felt the tightest bond with Bush.
"'You must be Frenchy they say.' From then on he started calling me The Frenchman," said L'Heureux.
George W. Bush was a regular at Camp David and on its mountain bike trails. One day the President called The Frenchman for a morning ride.
"He looked at me and said 'Have you done this before?'" said L'Heureux.
That ride turned into a brutal uphill battle and a lesson in the competitive nature of his current president.
"I'm bleeding all over the place," said L'Heureux. "He just looked at me and said 'You know Frenchman, you did pretty well for a piece of crap bike.'"
It's those moments he captures in his book to others in flight, like flying Pope John Paul and being behind the helm during that transfer of power as Bush left office and President Barack Obama began.
"You blink and 20 to 30 years go by," said L'Heureux.
Today, most in Hawaii know him as a leader in the Department of Education.
His island connection is strong and his son is now a captain at Kaneohe's Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
"I didn't get there alone. It was mentorship," said L'Heureux.
He decided it was time to give back and use all he's learned for a new chapter and another chance at greatness.
"When the opportunity presented itself I said I want to help," recounts L'Heureux.
He says to this day he exchanges handwritten letters with President George W. Bush.
The former pilot's first local book signing is Jun. 27 at 6 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Ala Moana Shopping Center.
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