The USS Lexington is Saved

Today in History, February 20, 1942:

Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare saves his ship. The USS Lexington was initiating a raid on Rabaul, a Japanese stronghold. However the Task Force was spotted, and many Japanese aircraft were sent to destroy the valuable aircraft carrier.

Lt. O’Hare was part of the “CAP”, or Combat Air Patrol for the Lexington (CV-2).

O’Hare singe-handedly shot down five of the attacking “Betty” bombers, effectively saving his ship, one of the few aircraft carriers the United States had available at the time.

This also made him the US Navy’s first ace of WWII.

About a year later, O’Hare, ever the hero, would be lost in unknown circumstances in one of the first night time fighter operations.

O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Butch.

What many people don’t know is that this American hero, who gave the “last full measure of devotion” for his country, was the son of a gangster. His father had been Al Capone’s lawyer.

The senior O’Hare (Easy Eddie), according to the story, had exchanged his testimony against Capone for a chance for his son to enter the Naval Academy. He paid with his life, gunned down by Capone’s thugs. As a result, thousands of American sailors aboard the Lexington were saved due to Butch’s heroism.

Brotherhood

Today in History, February 18, 1862:

“I know you are separated from your people, and perhaps you need funds.  My purse is at your disposal.”  Union General Ulysses Grant to Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner as Buckner prepared to board a river boat taking him north to a Yankee prison.

On February 16, 1862 after a hard-fought battle and investment, Confederate Fort Donelson in Tennessee had surrendered to Union forces.

Tennessee was a strategic area in the Civil War, providing resources, people and a launching point to move against the rest of the South.

General U.S. Grant had been little known to the public before this battle, but the victory would change all that.  He coordinated with the US Navy to bombard Ft. Donelson and surround the 12,000 men there.  After assaults and counter assaults, the Confederate commanders came to the realization loss of the fort was a foregone conclusion, a tragedy for the South.

Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner was actually third in command.  His superiors resigned their positions so they could sneak out and escape.  Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest took some of his Cavalry and fled also, leaving Buckner to stay with his men and surrender.

Buckner sent a note through the lines asking Grant for terms.  And here is where Grant became famous.  He wrote out his response for delivery to Buckner,

No terms except unconditional and imme­diate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

In a time when furloughs and prisoner exchanges were common in battle, Buckner found the response to be “ungenerous and unchivalrous.”  Yet he had no choice, his only option was surrender.  Having had little but bad news for some time, the Northern papers seized upon the victory.

They used Grant’s initials to rename him “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”  Turns out it wasn’t the first time others had changed his name for him, but that’s another story.

The public was finding out something those serving with Grant had learned…he was unpretentious, unceremonious and tenacious.  He got results.  President Lincoln would eventually say of him, “I can’t spare this man; he fights” in defense of Grant’s reported drinking problem.

If you want History to be more than dates on a page, watch out for the back stories…the facts that bring out the humanity in what you’re reading.

The story reads good already.  But lets dig further.

When Grant was younger, he wanted an education.  His father worked hard and secured him an appointment to West Point.  Initially, Grant didn’t want to go.  But once in, he liked it.  His uncanny horsemanship impressed fellow cadets and instructors.  And he made friends among the other cadets, including Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was attending at the same time.

Grant and Buckner, among many other officers in the US Army, served together and performed heroics in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

After that conflict Grant found himself assigned to the frontier in California, where he missed his family grievously and took to drink.  In July of 1854 he suddenly resigned his commission from the Army and sought transport home.

Grant found himself in New York without even enough money to get a meal or pay for a room.  And then he happened upon an old classmate and friend, Simon Bolivar Buckner.

The two enjoyed a visit, talked old times and Buckner, who was doing much better financially, paid for his friend’s room and board.

In the intervening years until 1861 and the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was somewhat of a hard luck case.  He tried farming, he tried real estate, nothing worked.  When the war began he was working for his brothers and his father in a store as a clerk.

When Southern states began seceding many in the US Army that were from those states, resigned their commissions and joined the Confederate Army, including Buckner.  Thus the old friends found themselves on opposite sides.

Thus, after the Battle at Fort Dolelson, Grant sought out Buckner before Buckner boarded the boat taking him off to prison in an attempt to return an old favor. Buckner, ever the gentleman, politely refused the return of the kindness.

Grant, of course, would become commander of all Union Armies and eventually President.

Buckner would eventually be exchanged for a Union general officer and continue to serve in the Confederate Army.

He surrendered in New Orleans in 1865 for a second time.  He would become Governor of Kentucky among other political successes.

In 1904 he visited the White House and asked President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint his son to West Point.  TR quickly agreed.

His son, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr would be killed at Okinawa in WWII, the highest ranking officer killed by enemy fire in WWII.

Tossing Around the…Pluto Platter

Today in History, January 23, 1957:

Walter Frederick Morrison sells the rights for an invention to the Wham-O Toy Company.

He and his wife had begun on the invention by selling “Flying Cake Pans” in 1937.

Nearly a decade later, after having learned more about aerodynamics while flying combat missions over Italy in a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter (shot down, spent time as a POW), Morrison began working on the invention again after WWII.

He and an investor began working with plastics, and he eventually came up with what he called the “Pluto Platter”, which is what he sold to Wham-O. Once college students began referring to it as a “Frisbee”, Wham-O changed the name.

NUTS!! Monty Shows His….Ego

Today in History, January 7, 1945:

The Battle of the Bulge.

After the American 101st Airborne held out against overwhelming German forces for days, refusing to surrender (Gen. Anthony McAuliffe replied Nuts! to a surrender command, confusing the hell out of the Germans); after American Gen. George S. Patton turned his entire 3rd Army 90 degrees and ran full tilt through winter conditions to reach his comrades; after American air power helped save the day when the weather cleared,

British Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery held a press conference during which he took credit for the hard won victory.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to address Parliament to assert the truth that The Battle of the Bulge was solely an American victory after the political fall-out of Montgomery’s typically arrogant statements.

Pappy’s Air War Ends

Today in History, January 3, 1944:

Moments after he became the top fighter ace in the Pacific Theater by shooting down his 26th enemy plane, USMC Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was himself shot down over the Japanese base of Rabaul.

He would be captured by the Japanese and held prisoner, brutally treated until rescued from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Boyington had been one of the American servicemen to resign their commissions to serve in the AVG, the American Volunteer Group, or “Flying Tigers” in China prior to America’s entry into the war. After Pearl Harbor he rejoined the Marines and fought in the Pacific.

Boyington was a Medal of Honor recipient. A warrior. And a drunk. In his good will tours after the war, he stated bluntly, “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a bum.”

NUTS!!

Today in History, December 22, 1944:

The 101st Airborne Division was surrounded by the Nazis at Bastogne, Belgium, after the Germans had broken through Allied lines in their last major assault of WWII. The “Battle of the Bulge” had caught the Allied command (well..not all, but thats another story) by surprise. The weather had Allied air support grounded and the German mechanized units (tanks) helped them quickly overrun the Americans. Freezing temperatures contributed to their woes.

Low on supplies and ammo, no air support due to the weather, three days before Christmas, their commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe received a demand from the German commander to surrender.

It took the Germans a bit to comprehend the one word, typically American vernacular,

“NUTS!”

The 101st would not surrender and fought on in desperate conditions until finally relieved by General Patton’s Army Corps and Allied Air Support when the weather broke.