February 20, 1942
At 4:56 pm, Lieutenant Butch O’Hare and his wing man Marion Dufilho were the only fighter pilots left on the USS Lexington. All the others were sent to intercept nine enemy planes that had shown up on the ship’s radar less than an hour before. The planes were in a V formation 47 miles west of the ship and headed directly toward the Lexington. It had been a busy day for the fighters on the USS Lexington. This was the third time planes were sent out to investigate enemy aircraft that were picked up on radar from the ship.
The ship’s radar picked up a second group of aircraft and they were only 12 miles from the Lexington. This gave O’Hare and Dufilho only enough time to get up in the air before engaging the Japanese bombers.
“Here we go Duffy,” O’Hare said over his radio. “Locked and loaded?”
O’hare waited for the affirmative response, but it didn’t come right away.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Dufilho said, panic rising in his voice as he spoke. “My guns are jammed. I’m a sitting duck.”
“Lady Lex is going to be making evasive maneuvers,” O’Hare said, still climbing so he could get well above the enemy planes. “You will have to fly around for a little bit until this is over.”
O’Hare knew there wasn’t another plane or pilot that could be launched to help him. He also knew that nearly 3,000 men were counting on him to stop, or at least slow down, the incoming bombers. He quickly took stock of his weapons, he had four 50-caliber guns with 450 rounds of ammunition for each gun. He had to be disciplined in his shot selection and how long he held down his trigger. He had only 34 seconds worth of firing time.
O’Hare was now 1,500 feet above the enemy planes. He dove hard on their right side and shot the farthest right plane’s right engine and fuel tank with short bursts of fire. The bomber lurched and fell from formation. Then he came back on the left side and repeated the maneuver, always being careful not to come in from behind where the tail gunners could shoot at him.
By the time the enemy planes reached the Lexington, O’Hare had shot down three planes, and damaged two others. The five working bombers dropped ten bombs at the Lexington, but missed the aircraft carrier. The pilot of one of the planes O’Hare had hit tried to hit the Lexington with his plane. He missed and crashed into the ocean.
Once the planes dropped their bombs, they tried to fly back to their base in New Guinea. But the main squad of planes that had been dispatched earlier had arrived and helped destroy the rest of the fleet.
Edward “Butch” O’Hare was given a medal of honor for his heroic mission that day. He would teach other pilots at Hawaii and give them tips and tricks that would save their lives in the war.
While a Wildcat fighter plane is far superior to a larger, slower bomber in an aerial dog fight, there are plenty of guns on those big bombers. To take on eight bombers at one time, is no sure victory. He may have thought he would never see his wife again, after only five months of marriage.
Why did he do it? Duty, honor, because only he could?
I have often heard that soldiers fight for their comrades as much as they fight for their country or home. He knew all the men serving on the USS Lexington and he wanted to try and save the ship. He also wanted the ship to be there so the fighters that flew off just an hour before would have somewhere to land. He took on eight bombers and all their guns to save others, not for a medal of honor, or badge of courage he could show off.
Next time you face a difficult task, think about those you will help by doing your best. There may be accolades at stake, but you will produce your best work by making service to others your main goal.