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Lt. Edwin O'Hare

Navy Lt. Edward O’Hare, for whom Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named, sits in the cockpit of the plane in which he shot down six Japanese heavy bombers in WWII.

Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Edward Joseph and Selma O’Hare on March 13th, 1914. Butch had two sisters, Patricia and Marilyn. In 1927, their parents divorced and their dad moved to Chicago while their mother remained in St. Louis with the children. Butch’s dad was a lawyer for the infamous Al Capone. He later turned on Capone and testified against him in a tax evasion trial.

Lt. Edwin O’Hare’s Military Training

Lt. Edward O'Hare stands beside a F4F-3 Wildcat (note leather cowboy belt instead of GI standard issue tan military web belt).

Lt. Edward O’Hare stands beside a F4F-3 Wildcat (note leather cowboy belt instead of GI standard issue tan military web belt).

Butch graduated from the Western Military Academy in 1932 and received a nomination to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland the following year. There is speculation that his dad testified against Capone to ensure that his son would get into the Naval Academy. Butch graduated and was appointed an Ensign on June 3rd, 1937. He served for two years aboard the battleship USS New Mexico. In 1939, he started flight training at NAS Pensacola in Florida. He flew the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-1 and the Boeing Stearman for basic training. As he progressed he transitioned to the North American SNJ advanced trainer. Butch used the Boeing F4B-4A for aerobatic and aerial gunnery training. He also flew the TBD Devastator and Corsair. While at sea in November of 1939, Butch was finishing his training and he received word that his dad had been shot to death. “Coincidentally” this happened just two days before Al Capone was released from prison.

Medal of Honor Flight

On February 20th, 1942, Lt. O’Hare and his wingman “Duff” Dufilho were the only airborne U.S. Navy fighters available when a second wave of Japanese bombers were attacking his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. At 1649, the USS Lexington’s radar picked up a second formation of Bettys only 12 miles out on the disengaged side of the carrier task force, completely unopposed. They flew east and arrived 1,500 feet above eight attacking Bettys nine miles out at 1700 hours. Lt. Edwin O’Hare’s
wingman’s guns jammed. This left Lt. O’Hare to protect the carrier. After Lt. Edwin O’Hare’s third and fourth firing passes, the Bettys were close enough for the anti-aircraft guns of the Lexington to become effective. The five surviving Betty bombers attempted to drop their ordinance, but missed. Lt. O’Hare believed he had shot down five bombers and damaged a sixth. Lieutenant Commander Thach calculated that O’Hare had used only sixty rounds of ammunition for each bomber he destroyed This was an impressive feat of marksmanship. In the opinion of Admiral Brown and Captain Frederick C. Sherman, Lieutenant Edwin O’Hare’s actions may have saved the carrier from serious damage or even loss. On April 21st, 1942, President Roosevelt looked on as Lt. Edwin O’Hare’s wife, Rita, placed the Medal of Honor around her husband’s neck.

After receiving the Medal of Honor, Lt. Edwin O’Hare served in a non-combat role. He campaigned for enlistments and sold war bonds. On June 19th, 1942, he assumed command of VF-3 and relocated to Hawaii to instruct other pilots in combat tactics. He later requested to go back to war.

Final Mission

On November 26th, 1943, Lt. Commander O’Hare volunteered to conduct the first-ever Naval nighttime fighter attack from an aircraft carrier. When the call came, he was eating his supper. He ran to the ready room and was catapulted between 1758 and 1801. At first the Hellcats had trouble finding the Avenger. The FDO had difficulty guiding the Hellcats to the targets.  In this situation, Lt. Edwin O’Hare was well aware of the deadly danger of friendly fire.  He radioed to the Avenger Pilot of his section, “Hey, Phil, turn those running lights on. I want to be sure it’s a yellow devil I’m drilling.” Lt. Edwin O’Hare was last seen at the 5 o’clock position of the TBF. About that time the turret gunner of the TBF, Alvin Kernan, noticed a Japanese Betty bomber above and almost directly behind Lt. O’Hare’s 6 o’clock position. Kernan opened fire with the TBF’s .50-cal. machine gun in the dorsal turret. A Japanese gunner fired back. Lt. O’Hare’s F6F Hellcat was apparently caught in a crossfire. Seconds later, O”Hare’s F6F Hellcat slid out of formation to the left, moving ahead at about 160 knots and then vanishing in the dark.

F4F-3A Wildcats flown by LCMDR. Thach (F-1) and Lt. O'Hare (F-13) during the aerial photography flight of April 11, 1942.

F4F-3A Wildcats flown by LCMDR. Thach (F-1) and Lt. O’Hare (F-13) during the aerial photography flight of April 11, 1942.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

On September 19th, 1949, the Orchard Depot Airport in Chicago was renamed O’Hare International Airport as a tribute to Lieutenant Commander Edwin “Butch” O’Hare.

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