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78th Anniversary of Butch O’Hare’s daring attack against superior numbers and more…

21 February 2020

Edward “Butch” O’Hare—78 years ago this week—without hesitation braved superior numbers and destroyed five Japanese bombers by using his excellent marksmanship (~60 rounds/aircraft). Mickeen Hogan, only a year from voting age, has in intense interest in the PTO aspect of World War II—studiously analyzing every detail as well as making interpretive 1:700 scale models and dioramas. What follows is a topical essay on the past as well as the potential historic (i.e., Class I and Class II) aircraft recoveries.

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USS Lexington (CV-2 ) and Her Treasures—Mickeen Hogan

Mickeen Hogan’s 1:700 diorama of the USS Lexington (CV-2) underway early in World War Two—image courtesy Mickeen Hogan

Resting on the bottom of the Coral Sea—nearly 10,000 deep–rests a sunken U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. Near the ship are several airplanes that sank with her which are rare and historic. These planes are F4F Wildcats, SBD Dauntlesses, and TBD Devastators. A Wildcat found near Lexington has more history in it than most people realize. On Feb 20,1942 this Wildcat, BuNo. 3986 wearing side code “White F-13”, was launched on a mission to defend the Lexington. It was flown by pilots Leon Haynes and John Thach on that same day. Combined, they shot down a bomber and assisted in downing another bomber as well as a patrol plane that day. While Thach and his squadron were busy dealing with the first wave, a second wave was detected. Edward “Butch” O’Hare and his wingman, Marion Dufilho, were sent out to intercept them. Before Dufilho was able to fire a shot, his guns jammed. Despite being outnumbered, Butch O’Hare—flying F4F Wildcat BuNo. 4031 “White F-15”—attacked the bomber formation and shot down five of the bombers, making O’Hare the Navy’s first ace of World War II. Later in April 1942, this aircraft was flown by Butch O’Hare in a photoshoot with squadron commander John Thach who was flying F4F-3A Wildcat BuNo. 3976 “White F-1” and who would come to invent the “Thach Weave” to defeat enemy Japanese Zeros. After this photoshoot, this Wildcat was assigned to future Admiral Noel Gayler, who along with Clarence Dickinson would become the first to win three Navy Crosses. It also received a new side code “White F-5” and was transferred to Fighting Squadron 2 along with Noel Gayler. White F-5 was flown in combat during the Battle of the Coral Sea by Noel Gayler and Albert “Scoop” Vorse. When it was low on fuel, it landed on the Lexington on May 8 but due to the fires on Lexington was not able to take off and so sank with the ship. Decades later, F4F-3A BuNo. 3986 was found near the Lexington, and Noel Gayler’s name, which had been stenciled under the cockpit in 1942, was still visible under the cockpit.

Mickeen Hogan’s 1:700 tribute to Butch O’Hare and his F4f Wildcat White 15 with card from another White 15 pilot Vice Admiral Noel Gayler. Mickeen uses Starfighter Decals in his work.—image courtesy Mickeen Hogan

Another plane that was present during the Feb 20, 1942 action off of Bougainville was SBD Dauntless 2106. SBD 2106 was in Bombing Squadron 2, carrying the side code “White 2-B-2” and was crewed by Mark T. Whittier and Forest Stanley at the time. Previously, this airplane had survived the Pearl Harbor attack. On March 10, 1942, three weeks after the action off Bougainville, Mark T. Whittier and Forest Stanley flew SBD 2106 in the Lae and Salamua Raids, where they scored a hit on an enemy cruiser, and had to revive the electrical system by extending and retracting their landing gear. For their bravery and leadership in the Lae and Salamua Raid Whittier and Stanley were awarded the Navy Cross. After being reassigned to the Marines, it was flown in the Battle of Midway by Daniel Iverson and Wallace Reid, returning with over 200 holes and making a one main wheel landing. After an overhaul and, much later, it was lost in a non-fatal training accident while being used as a trainer on Lake Michigan. Taras Lyssenko of A & T Recovery recovered SBD 2106 from Lake Michigan, which was subsequently restored by the National Naval Aviation Museum and it is now on public display at the museum which is located in Pensacola FL.

Mickeen Hogan’s 1:700 diorama of the USS Lexington (CV-2) underway early in World War Two. Mickeen uses Starfighter Decals in his work—image courtesy Mickeen Hogan

Perhaps the most significant aircraft at rest with Lexington are the Douglas TBD-1 Devastators. Only 130 were built, and in the Battle of Midway of the 41 Devastators bravely flown into battle only three survived to come back aboard the Lexington. None exist on display or in restoration today to honor the sacrifice these TBD Devastator crews made for our country. Eight out of the eleven TBDs that sank with Lexington have been found near Lexington, including the commander’s plane, “White T-1”—as well as “White T-4” and “White T-12” which both scored torpedo hits on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Shoho in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Since there are no TBD Devastators on display the TBDs that rest near Lexington provide a rare opportunity to recover a TBD Devastator.

Mickeen Hogan’s 1:700 diorama of the USS Lexington (CV-2) underway early in World War Two with SBD 2106 in the center. Mickeen uses Starfighter Decals in his work—image courtesy Mickeen Hogan

Some people (i.e., the Underwater Archeology Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command) say that it is more important to leave these planes in place so that future generations can see them in situ. However, this is not what should be done. In order to truly appreciate these planes, people need to see them in person today, not in a picture on their phone or computer. Also, most people would like to see these planes in person, as they build models and decal entire air groups of over 75 planes to go with their 1:700 scale aircraft carrier models. For example, as a seventeen year old student, after I made a presentation on World War II about the South Pacific my 11th grade class the class was talking about how they desried to see a TBD and the historic Wildcat recovered and put in a museum. There is a way to make it so both sides win. In order for people to see the planes in situ but not leave them in Davy Jones locker, what should be done is recover them but display them as “conserved wrecks”, preserved but unrestored. This allows the public to see what a plane is like in situ but also honor the men who flew these planes by having the type of plane they fought for our country on display for the public to see. Without any surviving TBD Devastators, we have no real aircraft, only scale models, to honor the TBD crews who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. By recovering a TBD from Lexington and displaying it as a “conserved wreck” the public will be able to see what a plane that has been in 10,000 feet of water for nearly eighty years looks like, and it will also honor the sacrifice the TBD crews have made for our countries. Most of the planes found near the Lexington, including F4F-3A Wildcat BuNo. 3986 and most of the eight TBDs found are mostly intact and extremely well preserved, making them perfect for recovery as well as conservation. Some people think that both public interest and honoring the TBD crews cannot be accomplished. However it can. And, also, by recovering F4F Wildcat BuNo. 3986, we would also be honoring the sacrifice Butch O’Hare made for our country in World War II, as he was killed defending the USS Enterprise during a night action on 26 November 1943. We have SBD Dauntless BuNo. 2106 on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation that flew from Lexington. By recovering O’Hare’s Wildcat and a TBD from Lexington, we would be able to fully honor the sacrifice the men of the Lexington and so many ships made for us in World War II.

 

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