"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 
      Fallen Heroes
 "Tell
Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We gave Our Today"
On February 20, 1942, the carrier USS Lexington, and her task force, were steaming toward Bougainville when they were spotted by two Japanese patrol planes. Warned of the American presense, eighteen twin-engine "Betty" bombers were hurriedly dispatched to sink the carrier. Aware of this pending threat, Lexington launched her fighting squadron, under the command of LCDR John S. Thach, to intercept. Of the first wave of nine bombers, five were shot down and the remaining four driven off by the fighters and  heavy anti-aircraft fire from the ships of the task force. As the second wave approached, only two of VF-3's Wildcats were in position to intercept. At this crucial moment, the guns of one of the fighters (which were manually charged) jammed, leaving the fate of the Lexington and her 2500 man crew in the hands of one man who was about to enter his first combat. Fortunately for them, that man, LT (jg) Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, was up to the daunting task that unfolded before him. During the next few minutes, one of America's great war heroes made himself known to the enemy and to the world. Wasting no time, Butch closed in on the last plane in one prong of the enemy's tight Vee formation. Ignoring their intense combined defensive fire, while conserving his own limited supply of ammo, he quickly picked off two bombers, kicked the rudder hard and came around in a tight turn, downing three more and damaging another. Only four bombers were able to drop their bombs and only two of them returned from the scene of battle. As a result of his actions that day, the Lexington and her crew were, for the time being, safe and the Navy had it's first ace of the war.
Above: An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber, possibly one of Butch's five victims, is about to meet it's end. This photo is reported to have been taken on February 20, 1942, during the aerial battle between the attacking Japanese bombers and the defending Wildcats from VF-3 who were tasked to protect the USS Lexington (CV-2). This photo would have been taken either from the Lexington, or one of her escorts.

Below: Two months later and a world away from that hectic February day of combat in the Southwest Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates LT Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare upon his receipt of the Medal of Honor. This photo was taken on April 21, 1942, in President Roosevelt’s office at the White House. Standing left to right are Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox,  Admiral Ernest King, and O’Hare’s wife Rita, placing the Medal around her husband’s neck. Note that although promoted at the time of the award, Butch's uniform still displays his prior rank of LT (jg). A well known source has stated that Butch was "immediately promoted two ranks to lieutenant commander". As seen in some of the photos below, that is probably incorrect, as he is seen wearing LT's rank on more than one occasion.

The Official Medal of Honor citation for LT O’Hare reads as follows: 

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare (NSN: 0-78672), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as section leader and pilot of Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3), attached to the U.S.S. LEXINGTON, on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lieutenant O’Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of nine attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machinegun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lieutenant O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action–one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation–he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.”

In case you missed that remarkable wording above, let me repeat it: "his gallant action-one of the most daring, if not THE MOST DARING, SINGLE ACTION IN THE HISTORY OF COMBAT AVIATION". Stop and think about the gravity of that statement for a moment please.
Above and below: To help promote Naval Aviation and increase enlistments in the Naval Air Forces, several photo and film shoots were arranged for both Butch and his VF-3 skipper, "Jimmy" Thatch while they were in the Hawaiian Islands. In the three color photos from the National Archives, we can see Butch's combination of a modified deck helmet and Mk-II goggles, which have an additional piece of chamois attached to protect the bridge of his nose. The parachute he carries is a Navy standard seat type. If you look closely at the parachute's ripcord handle, you wil see what remains of it's yellow paint, mostly worn off from everyday handling. His tooled leather and silver belt add a personal touch to his otherwise non-descript khaki shirt and trousers. Curiously, no collar rank insignia is being worn. 

At bottom, Butch and Jimmy prepair for a flight that was captured in a Navy short film. Both are wearing "left handed" TH-37 headsets, flipped to the right hand side. 

Prior to forming his new squadron, VF-6, LCDR O'Hare pays a visit to the Grumman factory and poses for photos with company president Leroy Grumman (right). Although an F4F is used as a backdrop, the factory would have been producing F6Fs at this time, which would equip VF-6 and many other Navy squadrons returning to the Pacific campaign. The Felix The Cat squadron insignia used by Butch's former squadron, VF-3,  was retained when they were re-designated VF-6.