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October 4, 2023

Profiles of Valor: LCDR Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare (USN)

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Have you flown through Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport and wondered for whom it was named? Maybe after the patriarch of some local political dynasty?

Do a quick search and you will come up with “Edward O'Hare,” but don’t confuse Medal of Honor recipient Butch O'Hare with his father, “Easy Eddie” O'Hare. The latter was a lawyer for Chicago gangster Al Capone who, in order to avoid prosecution, was a cooperating witness in order to get Capone convicted for tax evasion. “Easy Eddie” was murdered in 1939, a week before Capone was released from Alcatraz Prison. Nobody was convicted for the murder.

In fact, O'Hare Airport is named for the Navy’s first fighter ace, Edward “Butch” O'Hare, who, on February 20, 1942, attacked nine Japanese heavy bombers approaching his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. Despite having limited ammunition in his F4F Wildcat, Butch shot down five enemy aircraft, becoming an “Ace in a Day.” In October of that year, fighter pilot Joe Foss would become the first Marine “Ace in a Day.”

Butch was born in March 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri, and in fact never lived in Chicago. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign in 1937, serving two years on the battleship USS New Mexico before starting flight training at NAS Pensacola. He earned his wings and, in 1940, after his father’s murder, was assigned to Fighter Squadron Three (VF-3) on board USS Saratoga.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his VF-3 squadron, also known famously as the “Felix the Cat” squadron, transferred to the USS Lexington.

His Medal of Honor citation notes:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as section leader and pilot of Fighting Squadron 3 on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lt. O'Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of nine attacking twin-engined heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine-gun and cannon fire. Despite his concentrated opposition, Lt. O'Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.

On November 26, 1943, O'Hare’s final mission was leading the Navy’s first nighttime fighter attack from the USS Enterprise. During his encounter with a squadron of Japanese torpedo bombers, O'Hare, then flying the formidable Grumman F6F Hellcat, was shot down, and neither he nor his aircraft was ever found.

It was initially thought that in the confusion in the dark, his aircraft may have been disabled by “friendly fire” from Alvin Kernan’s TBF torpedo plane. However, as confirmed later after exhaustive research by Steve Ewing and John Lundstrom, authors of Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare: “Butch fell to his old familiar adversary, a Betty. Most likely he died from or was immediately disabled by, a lucky shot from the forward observer crouched in the rikko’s [Betty’s] forward glassed-in nose … the nose gunner’s 7.7 mm slugs very likely penetrated Butch’s cockpit from above on the port side and ahead of the F6F’s armor plate.”

In 1945, the U.S. Navy named a Gearing-class destroyer the USS O'Hare (DD-889) in his honor. In September 1949, the Chicago airport was renamed O'Hare International Airport.

Edward “Butch” O'Hare, your example of valor — an American Patriot defending Liberty for all and your fellow warriors at great risk to yourself — is eternal.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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