21 April 1942: Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward Henry (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, was presented the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony at the White House. Also present were Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, and Mrs. O’Hare.
Lieutenant O’Hare received the Medal for his actions of 20 February 1942, the single-handed defense of his aircraft carrier, USS Lexington, in shooting down five of nine attacking Japanese G4M “Betty” bombers with his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat and damaging a sixth. He was the first Naval Aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
20 February 1942: During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.
Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.
At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.
For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.
An airport in Chicago, O’Hare International Airport (ORD), the busiest airport in the world, is named in his honor. A Gearing-class destroyer, USS O’Hare (DD-889), was also named after the fighter pilot.
LIEUTENANT EDWARD HENRY O’HARE UNITED STATES NAVY
Medal of Honor – Navy
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy Born: 13 March 1914, St. Louis, Mo. Entered service at: St. Louis, Mo. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 gold star.
Citation: 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 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machinegun and cannon fire. Despite this 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 5 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.
26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of VF-2, piloted by O’Hara and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).
Butch O’Hara was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with “00” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.
The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.
The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.
At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hara was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.
A Japanese G4M opened fire on O’Hara’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared in the darkness.
Butch O’Hara’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hara by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hara, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.
Neither O’Hara or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.
Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.
One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.