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Historically Yours: WWII’s first flying ace born in Missouri

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare was born in St. Louis on March 13, 1914, to Selma Anna (Lauth) and Edward Joseph O’Hare. When his parents divorced in 1927, Butch and his two sisters, Patricia and Marilyn, stayed in St. Louis with their mother.

Butch’s father moved to Chicago where he practiced law and worked closely with Al Capone before turning state’s evidence which helped put Capone in prison for tax evasion.

Butch O’Hare graduated from Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois, in 1932 and went to the U.S. Naval Academy the following year. He graduated in 1937, served two years aboard the battleship USS New Mexico, then started flight training in 1939.

An excellent pilot, he worked his way up from one plane to another; and finally, trained in aerobatics and aerial gunnery. When he finished naval aviation training in May 1940, he was assigned to the USS Saratoga Fighter Squadron Three. He eventually caught the eye of the executive officer of the VF-3 who began to mentor the young pilot.

During his first flight in an F4F Wildcat from Washington, he made a stop in St. Louis to visit the wife of a friend in the hospital. This is where he met his future wife. He and Rita Wooster married in September. Stationed in Hawaii, Butch was called to duty the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On February 20, 1942, O’Hare became the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching the USS Lexington. With limited ammunition, he was credited with shooting down five of the enemy bombers and became WWII’s first naval recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Unable to fight against the U.S. daylight air superiority, the Japanese developed torpedo-armed Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers for night missions.

The U.S. responded with an experiment in the co-operative control of Avengers and Hellcats for night fighting. On the evening of Nov. 26, 1943, O’Hare volunteered to lead the first-ever Navy nighttime fighter attack from an aircraft carrier to intercept a large force of enemy torpedo bombers. It was O’Hare’s last flight. He was shot down; and despite two extensive searches, no trace of O’Hare or his aircraft was found.

In 1949, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, suggested Chicago’s Orchard Depot Airport be renamed to honor Butch O’Hare’s bravery during World War II. On Sept. 19, 1949, the name of the airport was officially changed to O’Hare International Airport.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com