Roy Church oral history interview
Vietnam War veteran Roy Church is interviewed about his service with the United States Marine Corps and his careers as a corporate and contract pilot. He discusses his experiences as a Marine aviator during the 1960s, including his time stationed at Da Nang Air Base as a Grumman A-6 bombardier-navigator and his training exercises at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (Washington). He also shares stories from his time as an air taxi pilot for Chrysler (circa 1970s-1990s) and as an independent contract pilot (1994 to 2008). Topics discussed include his training and service history, notable incidents from his military and civilian careers, his aviation-related hobbies such as gliding and aerobatic biplanes, and his involvement with The Museum of Flight.
Table Of Contents
Roy Church served with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War as a bombardier-navigator and afterwards worked as a corporate and contract pilot for over forty years. He was born in 1944 in Great Falls, Montana. In high school, he was a member of the Marine Corps League Junior Rifle Team, ranking in the top ten of All-American rifle shooters for two years. After graduating from high school, Church was accepted into the Navy ROTC scholarship program and began studying at the University of Michigan. While enrolled, he was a member of the ROTC drill team and the University’s rife team. In July 1964, he was dismissed by the university due to academic performance.
After leaving school, Church took correspondence courses and held a job while trying to gain readmission. In July 1965, he changed paths and joined the Marine Corps Aviation Cadet Training Program. Though he failed the flight physical due to astigmatism, he was able to enroll in naval flight officer training and received training as a bombardier-navigator. He completed his advanced bombardier-navigator training in Sanford, Florida and his Grumman A-6 training at Cherry Point, North Carolina. From there, he was sent to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State as part of the West Coast Navy Replacement Air Group. Upon returning to North Carolina in January of 1968, he received his overseas orders for Vietnam.
During his combat tour, Church served at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam. He flew 198 missions in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Laos. He also served for six months as the air group security officer. Church returned to the United States in April 1969 and was honorably discharged as a captain when his enlistment period ended in 1970. Afterwards, he served with the Marine Corps Reserve.
After leaving active duty, Church briefly returned to the University of Michigan and took a job as a part-time security guard for Chrysler. Chrysler offered him a full-time position and, in 1973, sent Church to flight school. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Church worked as one of Chrysler’s air taxi pilots. His passengers included Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca, as well as government officials and rock bands.
Church retired from Chrysler in the 1990s and launched a new career as an independent contract pilot. He also flew for a commercial glider operator while living in Hawaii. After retiring in 2008, he and his wife relocated to Gig Harbor, Washington. He joined The Museum of Flight Docent Corps in 2008 and is still an active volunteer as of 2018.
Biographical information derived from interview and additional information provided by interviewee.