Magazine article Insight on the News

Aviation Capital Honors WWII Ace

Magazine article Insight on the News

Aviation Capital Honors WWII Ace

Article excerpt

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport was named for a heroic pilot whom few today remember. He was Edward `Butch' O'Hare, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It is considered the aviation capital of the world, handling more passengers and aircraft operations than any other airport. Yet, it is doubtful that even a handful of the more than 70 million people who pass through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport every year have a clue about the short but extraordinary life of the man for whom it is named.

Edward "Butch" O'Hare was the son of Edward J. O'Hare, millionaire businessman and attorney from Chicago's South Side. By all accounts, Butch and his younger sisters, Patricia and Marilyn, lived happy and comfortable lives doted on by their father, who made sure they wanted for nothing even in those brutal Depressionera years. Butch set his sights on becoming a Navy aviator, and after being graduated from the Western Military Academy in 1932 he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. While Butch attended pilot training in Pensacola, Fla., he learned of his father's untimely death but did not resign to join the family business.

In 1942, as a 28-year-old flight lieutenant, young O'Hare found himself assigned aboard the carrier USS Lexington, then patrolling the Pacific near the Gilbert Islands. While on air patrol, O'Hare and his wingman spotted nine Japanese bombers zeroing in on the Lexington. The rest of his squadron was on the deck of the carrier refueling and reloading. Learning that his wingman's .50-caliber machine gun was jammed, O'Hare realized that he alone was between the enemy bombers and his carrier. Although completely outnumbered and outgunned, the young Chicagoan dove into the swarm of enemy aircraft and began knocking them from the sky.

When the dogfight was over, O'Hare had destroyed five of the nine enemy planes and another three had been shot down by other Lexington pilots who were able to take off from the carrier because O'Hare had begun the one-man assault. The 2,000 men and the desperately needed equipment aboard the ship were saved because of O'Hare's heroism. He became the first Navy "ace" of World War II and was promoted to lieutenant commander. For his actions, a grateful nation awarded O'Hare the Congressional Medal of Honor and President Franklin Roosevelt called what O'Hare did "one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation. …

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