On April 21, 1942, a nervous Lt. Cdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare stood beside his wife, Rita, at the White House while Franklin Delano Roosevelt awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for “one of the most daring, if not the most daring single action in the history of combat aviation.”
Butch O’Hare never really wanted a medal – just a chance to do his job. On February 20, 1942, he was on board the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific when radar picked up a formation of Japanese bombers closing in fast. The Lexington quickly launched fighters to intercept the oncoming planes. By the time O’Hare got aloft in his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, there was no chance to “get in on the brawl,” as he later put it, because other fighters had done a magnificent job breaking up the attack.
Then came a frantic message from the Lexington: a second wave of Japanese bombers had appeared. Only two Wildcats were in position to head them off – Butch and his wingman “Duff ” Dufilho. Dufilho soon discovered that his guns wouldn’t fire. That left Butch to fight off the bombers, which were minutes away from his carrier.
Roaring at the bombers, O’Hare began picking them off with deadly aim, one at a time. Sailors on deck watched in awe as he shot down five planes and disabled a sixth, all in a matter of minutes. He stopped only when he ran out of ammunition. When he landed, his first words were, “Just load those ammo belts, and I’ll get back up.” There was no need – his shooting had broken up the attack and saved the Lexington.
Twenty-one months later, Butch O’Hare’s plane disappeared over the Pacific during a night attack against some Japanese torpedo bombers. In 1949 Chicago renamed its airport O’Hare International Airport in honor of the Navy’s first flying ace.