Friday, February 20, 2015

Remembering the First American Flying Ace of WWII

Edward O'Hare

It was February 20. 1942 when an American Naval pilot became the first U.S. Flying Ace of World War Two. Twenty-seven-year-old Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare made history when his F4F Wildcat fighter intercepted nine Japanese bombers, not far from the Solomon Islands, preparing to attack the USS Lexington.

USS Lexington
Dufilho and O'Hare's Planes
O’Hare’s plane was one of six fighters that took off from the Lexington’s deck to take on the nine incoming Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers. But only two of the fighters were within striking distance of the bombers; O’Hare and “Duff” Dufilho. Then Wildcats were flying in formation toward the Japanese bombers when Dufilho's guns jammed and he dropped off, leaving O’Hare to fly solo into the enemy's formation. With remarkable skill, O’Hare downed three of the bombers and heavily damaged two more in a matter of minutes, using about 60 rounds per bomber.

Lt Comm Butch O'Hare
The USS Lexington escaped without damage, and O’Hare was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He was also designated as the Navy’s first fighter ace. (The designation ace is only given to a pilot who had downed five or more enemy planes.) O’Hare was also the first naval aviator to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.

For the next several months, O’Hare toured the country on promotional and war bond tours. In June 1942, he was relocated to Maui, Hawaii and placed in command of a group of combat pilots that he trained in fighting tactics.

Wake Island
O’Hare did not fly a combat mission again until October 1943 when he took part in the attacks on Wake Island. Then, on November 27, 1943, Butch O’Hare volunteered to lead a team of three fighters during the Navy's first-ever nighttime fighter attack.

USS Enterprise
F4F Wildcat
O’Hare and his group took off from the deck of the USS Enterprise. But the mission soon became muddled and radio contact with O’Hare was lost during the battle. It is not known what happened to O’Hare or his Wildcat fighter, but no trace of either was ever found.

In November 1944, one year after the attack, Edward Butch O’Hare was officially listed as dead. His wife Rita received her husband’s posthumous decorations, a Purple Heart and Navy Cross.

O’Hare continued to be honored, both during and after the war. A US Navy Destroyer was named after him in 1945. And in 1949, the Chicago Airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport in honor of the first Fighter Ace of WWII.

~ Joy

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