Veteran of the Day graphic by Cynthia Tong
Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Edward “Butch” O’Hare. Butch was a fighter pilot who received the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II.
Butch was born in St. Louis in March 1914. He attended the Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois, a small suburb of St. Louis, as a teenager. He graduated from there in 1932 and went on to attend the Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1937.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Butch was called into active duty. In his early active years with the Navy, Butch served aboard the USS New Mexico, Saratoga, Enterprise, and Lexington. After attending flight school in Sarasota, Florida, he was assigned to fly off aircraft carriers with Fighter Squadron Three.
On February 20, 1942, Butch and his wingman were the only aircraft based on the USS Lexington in the air when Japanese bombers were spotted coming in for an attack on the aircraft carrier. His wingman’s gun jammed during the fight, leaving Butch alone to fend off the attack. Butch was credited with shooting down five enemy aircraft alone in the air, with the remaining planes being fought off by the ships gunners. Despite the long odds, Butch’s plane was only hit once and no bombs ever hit the Lexington. For shooting down the five planes, Butch was considered a flying ace. He was promoted to lieutenant commander and received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt.
Later in the fall of 1943, Butch received further distinctions for his combat skills. He was given the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in battles at Marcus Island and Wake Island. He was also given command of three flight groups on the USS Enterprise.
In November 1943, Butch and his squadron were called into action for a dangerous night mission. He was shot down by a Japanese fighter and his plane and body were never found. He was declared “Killed in Action” a year later. His mother was presented the Navy Cross and Purple Heart in his honor.
In 1949, a campaign lead by the Chicago Tribune changed the name of the city’s airport, Orchard Field, to O’Hare Field in honor of Butch. Today it remains known as Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world where millions travel through each year.
We honor his service.
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Tavia Wager and Jenna Robles contributed to this story.