– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
The name O’Hare is familiar to most, due to its association with Chicago’s 7,627-acre international airport. This week, Tidbits researches the hero whose name was assigned to the facility.
• Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Edward “Butch” O’Hare spent his high school years at the Western Military Academy, a private military preparatory school located in Alton, Illinois. Following his graduation in 1932, he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Post-Academy, O’Hare was assigned to the battleship USS New Mexico.
• With a dream of becoming a pilot, O’Hare entered naval aviation training in 1939, training in aerobatics and aerial gunnery. Within months, tragedy struck the O’Hare family. Butch’s father, a lawyer and accountant, who was involved with organized crime, worked closely with gangster Al Capone. “Easy Eddie,” as O’Hare was known, lived in a Chicago mansion, courtesy of Capone, for keeping the mobster out of jail numerous times. But in 1931, Eddie turned state’s evidence against Capone, the only man willing to testify against him. In addition to alerting the authorities that Capone had fixed the jury, O’Hare’s incriminating testimony led to Capone’s prosecution and conviction for tax evasion. In November, 1939, just one week before Capone was to be released from prison, Eddie O’Hare was gunned down as he drove the streets of Chicago.
• Butch O’Hare’s exceptional flying abilities brought him to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in 1940. After a Japanese torpedo damaged the carrier in 1942, O’Hare was transferred to the USS Lexington.
• In February, 1942 the Lexington’s radar detected unknown aircraft 35 miles (56 km) from the ship. A wave of Japanese bombers was set to attack the Lexington, and a patrol was launched. When a second group of enemy bombers began an attack, only two U.S. fighters remained to defend the ship, O’Hare and one other pilot. When the other pilot’s guns jammed, O’Hare was on his own.
• Lieutenant O’Hare successfully shot down five bombers, earning him the designation of flying ace. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and became the first naval aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor, bestowed upon him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
• In 1943, the Japanese employed a strategy of flying torpedo-armed bombers on night missions. In an attempt to disable these attacks, in November, 1943, O’Hare volunteered to lead the first-ever Navy nighttime mission from an aircraft carrier to intercept the enemy bombers.
• In the midst of the battle, a Japanese bomber came up almost directly behind O’Hare’s plane. In the confusion of the dark, another U.S. aircraft fired at the enemy gunner, who fired back. O’Hare’s plane was caught in the crossfire and plunged into the sea below. A three-day search was launched, but no trace of the 29-year-old O’Hare or his aircraft was found. He left behind his wife of two years and their 10-month-old daughter.
• One year after his disappearance, O’Hare was declared dead on November 26, 1943. In 1949, in honor of the fallen hero, Chicago’s Orchard Deport Airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport.
• For 54 years, it was unclear whether O’Hare had been shot down by friendly fire or by the Japanese. In 1997, two distinguished World War II historians re-examined all the evidence, and determined that O’Hare had indeed been brought down by enemy fire.