Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare

Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare

by Steve Ewing, John B. Lundstrom

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Fighter pilot Butch O'Hare became one of America's heroes in 1942 when he saved the carrier Lexington in what has been called the most daring single action in the history of combat aviation. In fascinating detail the authors describe how O'Hare shot down five attacking Japanese bombers and severely damaged a sixth and other awe-inspiring feats of aerial combat…  See more details below


Fighter pilot Butch O'Hare became one of America's heroes in 1942 when he saved the carrier Lexington in what has been called the most daring single action in the history of combat aviation. In fascinating detail the authors describe how O'Hare shot down five attacking Japanese bombers and severely damaged a sixth and other awe-inspiring feats of aerial combat that won him awards, including the Medal of Honor. They also explain his key role in developing tactics and night-fighting techniques that helped defeat the Japanese.

In addition, the authors investigate events leading up to O'Hare's disappearance in 1943 while intercepting torpedo bombers headed for the Enterprise. First published in 1997, this biography utilizes O'Hare family papers and U.S. and Japanese war records as well as eyewitness interviews. It is essential reading for a true understanding of the development of the combat naval aviation and the talents of the universally admired and well-liked Butch O'Hare.

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Naval Institute Press
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Blue Jacket Books Series
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6.08(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.67(d)

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The Life of Butch O'Hare
By Steve Ewing John B. Lundstrom

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 1997 Steve Ewing, John B. Lundstrom, and the O'Hare Family Trust
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Mother and Father March Butch to Western Military Academy

"I don't want to go!"

Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare entered this world on 13 March 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri. Like all babies, he was more interested in the estimated time of arrival of his next bottle of milk than in the events of his new world. And, as with other babies, it would be a while before he showed any interest even in his own name. In time he would come to know that he was Eddie, Edward, and, later, Ed. It would be twenty years before he would be called Butch. His last name-O'Hare-although a proud name for him and the country that would remember it, did not fit the person, if one considers the historic meanings of surnames. Down through the ages the spelling of O'Hare has changed several times, but its meaning has remained constant: "sharp, bitter, angry." If ever a name did not fit a person, O'Hare did not suit Butch. From childhood until his death in 1943, Butch O'Hare would be known by all whose lives he touched to be the opposite of "sharp, bitter, angry."

When Butch got older he would learn that his father, Edgar Joseph O'Hare, so esteemed the name Edward that he himself used it throughout his adult life in preference to Edgar. Known to friends and family as EJ, Edgar was born on 5 September 1893, also in St. Louis, but he was only one generation removed from Ireland. His father, Patrick Joseph O'Hare, though born in Chicago around 1853, remained very Roman Catholic and very Irish. EJ's mother, Cecelia Ellen Malloy O'Hare, was born around 1873 in Ireland. Although she left the family while EJ was still a child, she imparted many of the attributes traditionally ascribed to the Irish that were often in evidence throughout his life.

The relationship between EJ and his son Butch grew to be very special. Their bond was especially strong and remained constant. While Butch loved his parents equally, EJ was the one he looked to as his model and source of direction.

Butch's mother, Selma Anna Lauth, was a native of St. Louis, born on 13 November 1890. She traced her heritage to Germany, where her father, Henry Lauth, had been born in 1844. In 1865 he joined Company K, 149th Illinois Infantry Regiment, as a private and witnessed the end of the Civil War. Selma's mother, Sophia, born in 1864 of German immigrant parents in Macoutah, Illinois, lived to see Butch graduate in 1937 from the U.S. Naval Academy. Grandmother Sophia and Butch shared a very close relationship, cemented, almost literally, by the scores of doughnuts and other kitchen delights she baked early in the mornings before he arose.

With sometimes too much affection flowing to Butch from EJ and Sophia-and certainly too many pastries from Sophia and nearby bakery owner Bill Jaudes-Selma often had to step in as principal disciplinarian. The extended absence of her entrepreneur husband left much of Butch's early training to Selma, a role she handled well; but it was not easy, given the location of their neat but crowded residence in South St. Louis and the times in which they lived.

Effervescent, Catholic EJ and reticent, Protestant Selma married on 4 June 1912. She was twenty-two and was given to understand that EJ was the same age, but in fact he was nineteen. Neither EJ nor Selma was born into money. His father, Patrick, operated a neighborhood restaurant on Morgan Street, while Selma's father, Henry, had worked as a laborer, a cooper, and finally a grocer. The newlyweds moved into the second- and third-floor apartment above her father's grocery store and remained there for over fifteen years. Henry Lauth's death, when Butch was four, left Sophia with a $30 monthly veteran's pension and the now even more welcome company of EJ, Selma, and little Butch.

Early each morning when Butch was a toddler, EJ left for his job at the Soulard Produce Market near the Mississippi River. By the time of his father-in-law's death in August 1918, however, he was putting most of his effort into his own father's restaurant. At night EJ came by the apartment for a few minutes with wife and son, then headed off to St. Louis University to earn credits in the School of Commerce and Finance. He never feared work and was fiercely determined to make a better life for himself, his wife, his mother-in-law, and Butch-the apple of his eye-and for any other children with whom he might be blessed.

In the spring of 1918 EJ learned that, indeed, another blessing was about to enter his life. His daughter, Patricia Jane ("Patsy"), was born on 14 January 1919. Now he had reason to work even harder, and he helped establish a trucking company, Dyer and O'Hare Drayage. With EJ's keen eye for business matters and his excitement at the challenge of creating and nourishing a successful enterprise, it did not take long for his company to show profit and growth.

With the arrival of baby sister Patsy, Butch's life changed. Previously not allowed to spend much time on the street adjacent to the three-story red-brick building that was home, he exploited Selma's preoccupation with Patsy's regular and vociferous demands for milk and other attentions by promising to stay off the rails when streetcars approached. Now unleashed, he eagerly explored a few blocks around Eighteenth and Sidney Streets, but his favorite path became the one into Bill Jaudes's bakery. Sometimes he played baseball in the street, but that soon lost its appeal because the other players often halted the game for lengthy discussions and impassioned appeals for rule changes. A more popular diversion was cops and robbers. Elsewhere around the country five-year-old kids played cowboys and Indians or doughboys versus "Huns." But in the neighborhoods of dusty South St. Louis, few lawns or bushes existed to offer a suitable simulation of the Old West, and the strong German ethnic feelings of the region did not favor games mimicking the Great War that had just ended in Europe. So the game became cops and robbers. It seemed that young Butch more often than not found himself the lone robber hotly pursued by a host of kiddie cops, all older and not slowed from the effects of Sophia's and Bill Jaudes's pastries. Away from his young son much more than he wished, EJ could only buy his boy a pair of boxing gloves and punching bag, then set up a small gym in the apartment and attempt to teach Butch the art of self-defense. With all due respect for his father's good intentions, Butch opted for more time inside with books, sweet rolls, and new sister Patsy. Selma joined EJ in chiding their good friend Jaudes that he was too intent upon helping Butch attain his own heroic profile of 250-plus pounds.

As Butch progressed through his childhood years, it became apparent to both his parents that his disposition was, in EJ's words, more Dutch than Irish or German. EJ's letters to Selma in 1926, when Butch was going on twelve, nearly always referred to him as "the little Dutchman" rather than "Eddie." It just was not Butch's nature to be vicious or spiteful. When enraged, he would hold his breath until he turned purple, giving his antagonist more reason to laugh than to feel threatened. The only exception in a personality that was developing toward reticence, even bashfulness, was his enthusiastic demonstration of physical affection in wrestling matches with EJ.

While fathers often continue to show physical affection to daughters into their school years, there seems to be an unwritten expectation that they must cease this type of behavior with sons at about the age of three or four. Love does not cease-only the manner in which it is demonstrated. Though not entirely abandoned by EJ and Butch, this feeling was sublimated into their wrestling matches. And what matches they were! At first EJ was the challenger; later, Butch. No quarter was asked or given. When the bouts began, Selma grabbed Patsy, and later baby sister Marilyn, and fled the room. Casualties were common: a chair, a table, more than one vase. When teeth finally figured among the injuries, Selma asserted her authority as commander in chief of the house and ended the matches.

While Butch's parents lamented their "Dutch" child's reticent disposition, their affection never declined, but there were times when it could not save him from being disciplined. Ever generous, four-year-old Butch once insisted that Grandmother Sophia should have a nice bright red coat instead of the black plush one she constantly wore. Showing some of the creative thinking that would serve him in later life, he took paint brush and coat in hand and forthwith produced a red garment. Upon presentation, the coat was not the only thing that turned red. On another occasion, at about age seven, Butch was sent to his room to take a nap. A cold rain prevented him from escaping outside. Bored, Butch raised his BB gun and proceeded to alter the ceiling with holes large enough to admit sun and rain. Again, another thing turned red.

At least there was school to interrupt the boredom. Beginning Fremont Public School in 1920, Butch proved to be an outstanding student in grade performance, attendance, and manners. Frequently his achievements were recognized with certificates: one Roll of Honor award certified that Butch was one of only forty-five students so recognized out of an enrollment of over a thousand.

On 9 May 1924 EJ, Selma, Butch, and Patsy welcomed Marilyn Jeanne to the family. Ten years her senior, Butch would become almost a second father to his younger sister. Throughout their lives Patsy and Marilyn would consider Butch to be the "brother of brothers," and they would have placed him just as high on the pedestal had he never gone near an airplane or entered the U.S. Navy. Patsy, separated from Butch by only five years, became more of a partner in some of his activities. Age difference and distance in miles restricted the quantity of time Butch and Marilyn shared, but the quality lacked for nothing. When Butch was with Marilyn, he fully focused on "his little queen." After leaving for private school, he nonetheless immediately began writing his sisters, even though at age three Marilyn required an elder to read his letters to her.

Especially during the summers, sometimes in company with the Jaudes family, the O'Hares escaped St. Louis to a camp on a river, either their place on the Gasconade west of the city or southwest to the Jaudes's on the Meramec. By this time Butch had substituted a .22-caliber rifle for the earlier BB gun, and the future aerial sharpshooter honed his aim by plinking cans and bottles tossed into the river. EJ taught the children survival techniques in the wild and enjoyed the process all the more because of the avidity of his three learners. Years later Butch took Marilyn to hunt white doves, but only once, for she much preferred to point a camera rather than a gun. Swimming, however, was another matter. Butch helped teach her to swim, especially under water, and patiently took the time to instruct her about anything else that captured her interest.

In looking back over their lives, many families recall a particular and special period of happiness. For the O'Hares that golden period occurred between 1912 and 1930. For all of that time the family lived above the grocery store in South St. Louis, with short trips to the river camps for back-to-nature getaways. Soon after Marilyn's birth, however, EJ established business interests in Chicago and Florida, and shortly Butch would be spending the majority of his time away from home. In the 1990s many of Butch's friends recall his ability to be at home anywhere he hung his hat, be it Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy, a sailboat, an aircraft carrier, a barracks building, or a cabin on Maui. While none of his friends remember him ever saying so, one cannot help but wonder if, in those moments before sleep overcame him in the numerous abodes of his adult life, his thoughts drifted back to those warm, happy, fulfilled days with father, mother, sisters, and grandmother above the grocery and on the banks of the Gasconade and Meramec.

From 1924 to 1927, during Butch's last three years living full-time with his family, he continued to excel in school, was well mannered with adults and other children, and was becoming a first-class student of his father's hunting, fishing, and swimming lessons. EJ and Selma could understand his bashfulness and some of his continuing antics, such as his "parachute" jump with an umbrella off a garage roof into a snowbank, a feat witnessed with great pride by seven-year-old Patsy. Landing a good bit harder than anticipated, Butch never again took to the air with an umbrella, and only once in a parachute-and that was under duress.

Antics are a part of the life of any child, but some of Butch's raised concerns. Selma worried about his love of speed. He demonstrated very little interest in knowing how to take a vehicle apart or put it back together, but if car, cart, truck, bike, or horse was moving, he wanted to be on it. The faster something moved, the better Butch liked it, and he never hesitated to apprise EJ or anyone else that whatever conveyance they rode in or on would move faster if only they would allow it. In addition to the perceived problem of speed, Selma also worried about Butch missing curfew, which was 9 P.M. Never relinquishing an opportunity to ride with anyone who would let him climb aboard, Butch usually got home before nine when riding in one of EJ's trucks. However, at age twelve Butch was invited to play a new game: spin the bottle. While the presence of others provided opportunity for only very brief kisses, Butch was interested enough to stay in the game until everyone else had to go home. And it seemed that this game, like catching lightning bugs, never took place until the last rays of sunlight had disappeared from the South St. Louis sky. Butch now began to miss curfew with some regularity. Waiting patiently behind the door was partner-in-curfew-crime Patsy, who would unlock the door upon big brother's tardy approach. Together they would tiptoe up the steps, their deeds and collaboration all the while known to their mother. Payback required Butch to tell Patsy all the details of the evening's semiromantic proceedings.

by 1927 Butch was showing some consistency in attitude and actions interpreted by his workaholic father as laziness. He also demonstrated too much affinity for chicken, sweet potatoes, and banana layer cake, along with his lifelong staples, frosted sweet rolls, tarts, and doughnuts. Too often his daily position was prone-often with a book, sometimes not. Too often he dispatched whichever sister was closest to fetch him a drink of water.


Excerpted from FATEFUL RENDEZVOUS by Steve Ewing John B. Lundstrom Copyright © 1997 by Steve Ewing, John B. Lundstrom, and the O'Hare Family Trust. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Steve Ewing, senior curator at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, is the author of biographies on Jimmy Flatley among other books.

John B. Lundstrom, curator of American and military history at the Milwaukee Public Museum, is the author of The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway and The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign.

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