“Load the ammo belts and I’ll get back up”

If you have ever wondered how Chicago’s O’Hare Airport got its name, here is the American hero it’s named for.   

Three months after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy’s aircraft carrier Lexington, known as the “Blue Ghost,” was carrying out the dangerous task of penetrating enemy waters. The carrier’s radar picked up enemy bombers inbound, and it directed its airborne Wildcats to intercept them.

Butch O’Hare and his wingman Duff Dufilho were the closest and raced to the bombers, arriving over their V-formation nine miles from the Lexington. Preparing to engage, the two pilots test-fired their 50 caliber guns. Duff’s guns would not fire. Butch would have to tackle the bombers on his own. (That’s him in the photo above.)

He didn’t hesitate, diving into the enemy formation. Tracers from the enemy bombers streamed toward him, but Butch took cool aim and blew the engines off of its mountings.

Coming around to the other side of the formation, he fired on another bomber and took it out of the fight.

Butch’s Wildcat carried 450 rounds for each of its four guns. He could fire for just over 30 seconds total, so he had to be very disciplined on these attacks.

With the bombers closing on his ship, Butch swung around, fired, and took down a third plane.

With no time to spare, Butch O’Hare continued his attacks, managing to damage two more of the bombers before he ran out of ammo.

The remaining bombers came up on the carrier. The Lexington opened up with its anti-aircraft gun, and more Wildcats arrived to dispatch the surviving bombers.

As Butch’s Wildcat approached to land, a nervous gunner on the carrier shot at him. Butch maintained his approach, landed, and told one of the deck crew,

“I’m okay. Just load those ammo belts and I’ll get back up.”

He strolled over to the gun platform and looked down at the embarrassed gunner who had fired on him, saying:

“Son, if you don’t stop shooting at me when I’ve got my wheels down, I’m going to have to report you to the gunnery officer.”