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Meet The World War II Hero Who Gave O'Hare Airport Its Name

By Heather Cherone | February 17, 2017 7:58am | Updated on February 17, 2017 12:07pm
 President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lt. Cmdr.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lt. Cmdr. "Butch" O'Hare upon receipt of America's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
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United States Navy

O'HARE — Seventy-five years ago, 28-year-old Lt. Cmdr. Edward Henry “Butch” O'Hare single-handedly took on nine Japanese bombers at the height of World War II.

Although the naval pilot was low on ammunition, he managed to shoot down or damage several enemy bombers, saving the aircraft carrier Lexington. For his bravery, he won the first Medal of Honor to be awarded for service in World War II.

In their biography, "Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare," authors Steve Ewing and John Lundstrom call him "the original top gun."

On Friday, O'Hare's most lasting legacy — his namesake O'Hare International Airport — was celebrated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of the war hero's family who gathered near the replica of O'Hare's F4F-3 Wildcat on display in the airport's Terminal Two.

Emanuel said O'Hare's fight for "something bigger than himself" in the battle against tyranny during World War II has echoes today.

"I can't think of a better moment to honor a man like Butch O'Hare," Emanuel said.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who often delights in shining a spotlight on Chicago's history, called O'Hare a true American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice."

[U.S. Navy]

After O'Hare's death, Col. Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Tribune, suggested that the name of what was then known as Orchard Depot Airport be changed in tribute to O'Hare.

[U.S. Navy]

Connection to Capone

O'Hare was born in 1914 in St. Louis. His father, Edward Joseph, was an attorney who represented Al Capone before turning against him and helping convict Capone of tax evasion.

The war hero's father died after being shot in his car a week before Capone was released from prison, leading many to speculate the gangster ordered the hit in retribution.

Final mission

O'Hare died in 1943, after leading the U.S. Navy’s first attack launched from an aircraft carrier at night. After confronting Japanese torpedo bombers, O'Hare's aircraft was never found.

He was awarded the Navy Cross after his death.

O'Hare was survived by his wife, Rita, and daughter, Kathleen.

At the naming of the airport, his mother Selma told reporters, "I am a very proud woman that this honor is being paid to my son. But in a sense, it isn't just to his memory. It is for all the boys who gave their lives in the war. I know Edward would feel that way."

Edward O'Hare (left) and leading crew chief Williams "Chief Willy," beside a F6F-3 Hellcat, talk things over at Wake, Oct. 5, 1943. [U.S. Navy]