A Life Well LivedOct 01, 2016 ● By Scott Dillingham
Young Mr. Peasley was intrigued by the Marine F4 and A4 fighter jets on Marine recruitment posters at the local movie theater. Also, he liked the Marine Corps warrior ethic of, “When a battle starts, the Marines run to the sound of the gun, not away from it. They always take care of their own.” While still in high school, Mr. Peasley began searching for officer candidate programs that he could participate in while attending college. Just 165 miles to the north, San Jose State University offered an ROTC Marine Corps program with an aviation option for those qualifying to go to flight school. In January of 1967, Mr. Peasley graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the USMC and reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight school.
One year later, 1st Lt. Peasley was awarded his Naval Aviator Wings, albeit to fly helicopters, not jets. He was disappointed, but still motivated to serve our country. Lt. Peasley was sent to Santa Ana, Calif., to join a newly-formed squadron, the HMM-263 Thunder Eagles. (Vietnamese has no translation for “eagles,” so they became known as the “Thunder Chickens.” The name remains to this day).
The Vietnam era was a complicated and divisive time for our country. Mr. Peasley described it as “an interesting experience -- both eye-opening and personally threatening at times.” It was a night and day experience getting off the plane in Vietnam. Everything you knew as “safe” and “normal” was gone in a heartbeat. During his first night in the country, his base experienced what would become regular mortar attacks, but he was there to do a job, and flying was the real experience. Lt. Peasley quickly felt he was contributing to the safety and welfare of fellow Marines by flying in supplies, transporting troops and resupplying fire support bases, as well as participating in medical or reconnaissance evacuation missions. Medical evacuations were the most harrowing flights (and most rewarding for the lives saved) because apart from being under enemy fire, it meant one or more Marines had been injured and needed immediate attention. While shot at many times, he was personally never injured and was always able to land his damaged helicopter in a protected landing zone or safe area. In recognition of his service in Vietnam, Mr. Peasley was awarded 38 Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Cross medals.
Mr. Peasley next transitioned to the AH-1 Cobra helicopter group in Calif., followed by an overseas assignment to Okinawa, Japan. He attended aircraft maintenance officer schools and worked as the maintenance officer for different squadrons. Based on his extensive maintenance experience and flight time in different helicopters, Capt. Peasley was honored to be selected to join the prestigious HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron-One) in Quantico, Va., known also as the “Presidential Helicopter Squadron.” In addition to its transportation role for senior government officials and dignitaries, HMX-1 is tasked with operational tests and the evaluation of new flight systems for Marine Corps helicopters. While seldom mentioned, HMX-1 has an important role in the continuity of the U.S. government by helping ensure our leaders are kept safe and quickly removed from any threatening situation.
During the ensuing years, Capt. Peasley worked in the maintenance department, flew different helicopters and was co-pilot on several Marine One flights with Presidents Ford and Carter. During his last year in the squadron, he worked for the Carter White House as a liaison officer in the planning of presidential trips.
Eventually, Maj. Peasley left HMX-1 for what he described as his “dream job” at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, Calif. While there, he was a member of a team of engineers developing the installation of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile onto the AH-1 Cobra helicopter. He said it was a thrill firing missiles and helping develop new systems on multiple helicopters. During this time, he attended test pilot school at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, which would be the stepping stone for his future V-22 Osprey job.
In 1983, nearly seven years since his original HMX-1 experience, HMX-1 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Terry Dake asked Lt. Col. Peasley to return as his executive officer. In July of 1985, he was appointed the commanding officer, leading more than 600 Marines, 60 pilots and 30 helicopters. Regarding Lt. Col. Peasley, General Dake (USMC, retired), recently stated, “Dick has a low-key, business-like approach to the task at hand. The unique responsibility of flying the President of the United States requires extraordinary preparation and flawless execution. I trusted Dick to carry out any mission, without any doubt that it would be well and safely done.”
As HMX-1 commanding officer, Lt. Col. Peasley flew President Ronald Reagan on Marine One for more than 380 memorable and historic flights around the world. A few of the memorable flights with President Reagan included the 1986 Reykjavik Summit in Iceland with Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, the rededication of the Statue of Liberty and the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. His most historical experience was being in Berlin (in June of 1987) to hear President Reagan’s famous challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Lt. Col. Peasley states he respected President Reagan and was privileged to see, firsthand, his genuine warmth and consideration to those who worked for him.
With the end of Lt. Col. Peasley’s HMX-1 assignment, he decided to forgo attending the National War College, retire from his 20-year military career and move to Texas. At the age of 45, he became one of the few Bell Helicopter experimental test pilots for the new tilt rotor V-22 Osprey, being jointly developed by Bell Helicopter and Boeing. Sadly, its two-decade long development claimed the lives of 30 people, but this leading-edge technology has the unique capability to carry more, fly higher and go faster and farther than any other helicopter. The V-22 Osprey is now used by the Navy, Air Force Special Forces Command units and Marine Corps squadrons (including Mr. Peasley’s former VMM-263 Thunder Chickens). Also, it is now part of the HMX-1 transportation fleet. Mr. Peasley was proud to be part of a team ushering in this new aviation technology, in spite of often heavy opposition from military and government officials, before retiring from Bell Helicopter in 2007.
As you may have heard, there is no such thing as a former Marine. You are a Marine … just in a different uniform and in a different phase of your life. Today, Mr. Peasley actively works with the Frisco Lakes Veterans Memorial Association raising money for local veterans and first responders. Additionally, he served on the Frisco ISD Bond Committee and the Frisco Community Theatre Board. He continues to serve on the board of directors for the North Texas Municipal Water District. Today, Mr. Peasley and his wife, Sue, are active members of Stonebriar Community Church and live in the Frisco Lakes community, to be close to their children and grandchildren.
Mr. Peasley has always been motivated by his love of God, family, friends, community and country. His strong sense of patriotism contributed to his serving our country, and his love for flying helped him enjoy it to the fullest. The Peasleys are excited to see what God’s plan for their future holds, but people who know Mr. Peasley would agree with Gen. Dake’s statement, “We are stronger as a community and as a nation because we have men like Dick Peasley in our midst.”