Thursday, September 15, 2011

Air Hero: "Butch" O'Hare

This handsome fellow is Edward "Butch" O'Hare.
(March 13, 1914 - November 26, 1943)

Born in St. Louis, Missouri,  "Butch" O'Hare is quite the naval aviator hometown hero. If the United States "badly needed a hero in 1942", then we surely got another one! On February 20, 1942, LT O'Hare was one of two Navy fighters available in air when Japanese bombers, "Betty's", were attacking his aircraft carrier USS Lexington. His wingman "Duff" Dufilho's guns got jammed and wouldn't fire. So, "Butch" O'Hare was the only protection for the carrier Lexington. With eight "Betty's" in a "V" formation he single-handedly shot down five and left a sixth damaged. He only had enough ammunition to last for 34 seconds of firing! Lieutenant Commander Thach arrived at the scene with other pilots of the flight, later reporting that at one point he saw three of the enemy bombers falling in flames at the same time. A "Betty" tried to hit Lexington with his damaged plane. He missed and flew into the water near the Lexington. The other two planes were also damaged by O'Hare and landed safely, but the escapees were shot by LT Noel Gayler 40 miles from Lexington.

The actions of "Butch" O'Hare earned him the spotlight of the media greeting him at Pearl Harbor on March 26, 1942. He then held a press conference at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. On a radio show in Honolulu he gave a shout-out to his wife Rita saying, "Here's a great big radio hug, the best I can do under the circumstances". The first time O'Hare met nurse Rita (on July 22, 1941) he proposed to her! He sent another shout-out to his mother Selma, simply saying a heartfelt, "Love from me to you".

O'Hare was decorated with medals, one being the Medal of Honor. It was placed around his neck by his wife (they are so sweet together)! He also had a welcome home parade. A newspaper headline read, "60,000 give O'Hare a hero's welcome here". Yet, he hardly liked any lavishly huge recognitions and didn't like talking about himself as a hero. For him, he is part of a team of heroic brothers. When he passed away in November of 1943, after leading the first U.S. Navy nighttime fighter attack, his mother Selma O'Hare didn't really allow any monuments in honor of her son in the city of St. Louis. There is, however, an international airport in Chicago, Illinois, that was named after him on September 19, 1949. Former President John F. Kennedy did a wreath-laying ceremony at O'Hare Airport in March of 1963. Widowed wife Rita and daughter Kathleen did receive his posthumous decorations, the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart on November 26, 1944.

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