Butch O Hare




Navy Lieutenant Edward "Butch" O'Hare.




The role of the fighter pilot aboard an aircraft carrier at sea is the same as that of a fighter pilot anywhere: to win and hold control of the air. Until he does this, his own base--the carrier--is not safe. And the important bombers and torpedo planes the ship carries may not be able to get through the enemy fighter screens with their lethal loads. To be successful, the fighter pilot had to master more tasks than any other single man in World War II. He had to be exceptionally good, of course, at handling a fighter plane--alert, with superior coordination and split-second timing. There was an unprecedented amount of technical know-how to absorb, including complex mechanical systems, electronics, navigation, radio and operational procedures. He had to be a good shot, too. All of this called for unusual judgment, skill and courage. Nothing could dramatize these qualities better-- or illustrate their value more vividly--than the heroic exploits of Navy Lieutenant Edward "Butch" O'Hare. Edward H. O'Hare was born on the 13th of march, 1914 in St. Louis, the son of "E.J." O'Hare, a wealthy businessman and attorney. His parents sent him to Western Military Academy (WMA) at age 13, where he pursued an interest in marksmanship, becoming president of the rifle club. In 1932, he graduated from WMA, and in 1933 went on to the US Naval Academy.



In 1939 he started flight training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, learning the basics on N3N-1 and Stearman NS-1 biplane trainers. In November, his father was gunned down by Al Capone's gunmen, most likely because he had given the government information useful in its prosecution of Capone. The gangland-style murder made big headlines, and the newspapers printed numerous speculations on the circumstances of the murder. Many of these were less than flattering and implied that E.J. was involved with the mob. Returning to Pensacola after the funeral, young O'Hare moved up to flying more advanced biplanes like the Vought O3U, the Corsair SU, and the Vought SBU-1 scout bomber. When he finished his naval aviation training in May, he was assigned to VF-3, the USS Saratoga's Fighting Squadron. The CO was Warren Harvey; the great John "Jimmy" Thach was XO at this time, later succeeding Harvey as CO. VF-3 was flying the Grumman F3F-1 biplane and the newer Brewster F2A-1. In July, 1940, Ed O'Hare made his first carrier landing, "just about the most exciting thing a pilot can do in peacetime." Jimmy Thach used to knock the new pilots down a notch by outflying them. He would let a rookie gain an altitude advantage, and then, while reading a newspaper or eating an apple, he would out-manoeuvre him and get on his tail. But when he tried this on O'Hare, he couldn't gain an advantage. Duly impressed with O'Hare's impressive flying abilities, Thach closely mentored the promising young pilot. on the 20th of February, 1942. The carrier Lexington had been assigned the dangerous task of penetrating enemy-held waters north of New Ireland. From there her planes were to make a strike at Japanese shipping in the harbor at Rabaul. Unfortunately, while still 400 miles from Rabaul, the Lexington was discovered by a giant four-engine Kawanishi flying boat. Lieutenant Commander John Thach, skipper of the Lexington's Wildcats fighters, shot down the Japanese "Snooper," but not before it had radioed the carrier's position. That afternoon Commander Thach led six Wildcats into the air to intercept nine twin-engine enemy bombers. In a determined attack each of the Wildcats destroyed a bomber and damaged two more. The ship's anti-aircraft guns finished off the rest.

O Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the highest decoration of his country, the Congressional Medal of Honor.












Kawanishi H8K flying boat.



Grumman F4F-3A Wildcat of Lt. "Butch" O'Hare, April 1942.


Grumman F4F-4 "Wildcat" of Fighting Squadron 41 in flight.




USS  Lexington.

In the meantime, nine more Japanese bombers were reported on the way. Six Wildcats one of them piloted by Butch O'Hare, roared off the Lexington's deck to stop them. O'Hare and his wingman spotted the V formation of bombers first and dived to try to head them off. The other F4F pilots were too far away to reach most of the enemy planes before they released their bombs. As if this weren't bad enough, O'Hare's wingman discovered his guns were jammed. He was forced to turn away. Butch O'Hare stood alone between the Lexington and the bombers. O'Hare didn't hesitate. Full throttle, he roared into the enemy formation. While tracers from the concentrated fire of the nine bombers streaked around him, he took careful aim at the starboard engine of the last plane in the V and squeezed his trigger. Slugs from the Wildcats six .50-caliber guns ripped into the Japanese bomber's wing and the engine literally jumped out of its mountings. The bomber spun crazily toward the sea as O'Hare's guns tore up another enemy plane. Then he ducked to the other side of the formation and smashed the port engine of the last Japanese plane there. One by one he attacked the oncoming bombers until five had been downed. Commander Thach later reported that at one point he saw three of the bombers falling in flames at the same time. By now Thach and the other pilots had joined the fight. This was lucky because O'Hare was out of ammunition. The Wildcats took care of several more bombers and the Lexington managed to evade the few bombs that were released. It was an amazing example of daring and shooting skill. Afterward Thach figured out that Butch O'Hare had used only sixty rounds of ammunition for each plane he destroyed. He had probably saved his ship. He was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the highest decoration of his country, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Butch O'hare was later killed, November 1943, during the The Great Marianas "Turkey Shoot" in the battle for the Gilbert islands in the Pacific. He was accidentally shot down by another American airplane on the first successful night-fighter operation from a carrier. O Hare finished the war with 7 victories.