uss lexington

When a war begins, I doubt if anyone is thinking about the medals or the honors they might receive, because what they really want is for the war to be over already. Nobody enjoys going to war…not even the one who starts the war. There are never any guarantees that you will come out of a war alive, so most people would rather not go at all. Nevertheless, when a soldier goes into war, he or she has taken a vow to do their very best, and to fight to the death, if necessary. When World War II got started, the United States really intended to stay out of it. They vowed to stay neutral…until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Once the United States entered World War II, however, we were in it to win it.

Lieutenant Edward O’Hare, an American naval aviator of the United States Navy, was born on March 13, 1914 in Saint Louis, Missouri, to Selma Anna (Lauth) and Edward Joseph O’Hare. He was of Irish and German descent. Edward, who was nicknamed “Butch,” had two sisters, Patricia and Marilyn. Their parents divorced in 1927. Butch and his sisters stayed with their mother in Saint Louis, and their father moved to Chicago. O’Hare joined the Navy, and from there, life moved pretty fast. On July 21, 1941, O’Hare met his future wife, Rita and asked her to marry him that night. He knew immediately that she was the one. They got married on September 6, 1941 and their daughter, Kathleen was born in January or February of 1943. O’Hare first met her when she was a month old, because of missions he was on.

In the Navy, O’Hare was stationed first on the USS Saratoga, then on the USS Enterprise, and then on the USS Lexington, flying a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. In mid-February 1942, the Lexington sailed into the Coral Sea. A town named Rabaul, at the very tip of New Britain, one of the islands that comprised the Bismarck Archipelago, had been invaded in January by the Japanese and transformed into a stronghold. In fact, it had been turned into one huge airbase. The occupation of Rabaul put the Japanese in prime striking position for the Solomon Islands, which would have been put them in a perfect position for expanding their ever-growing Pacific empire. Given the mission of destabilizing the Japanese position on Rabaul with a bombing raid, the fighters on the Lexington took off from the aircraft carrier’s deck in a raid against the Japanese position at Rabaul. Just moments later, Lieutenant O’Hare became America’s first World War II flying ace. In the battle that took place on February 20, 1942, O’Hare believed he had shot down six bombers and damaged a seventh. Captain Frederick C Sherman later reduced that number to five, as four of the reported nine bombers were still overhead when he pulled off. Nevertheless, in the opinion of Admiral Brown and of Captain Sherman, commanding the Lexington, Lieutenant O’Hare’s actions may have saved the carrier from serious damage or even loss. In a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers, bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack and earning O’Hare the designation “Ace,” which was given to any pilot who had five or more downed enemy planes to his credit. The attack on the bombers was great, but it ruined the element of surprise, so the mission was called off.

On the night of November 26, 1943, the USS Enterprise introduced the experiment in the co-operative control of Avengers and Hellcats for night fighting. The team consisted of three planes, breaking up a large group of land-based bombers. O’Hare volunteered to lead this mission to conduct the first-ever Navy nighttime fighter attack from an aircraft carrier to intercept a large force of enemy torpedo bombers. When the call came to man the fighters, Butch O’Hare was eating. He grabbed up part of his supper in his fist and started running for the ready room. It was to be his final mission. When it was over, O’Hare was missing in action. He was declared dead a year later. The airport in Chicago and a destroyer would later be named in his honor. He lived life fast and died young, but he was always in it to win it.

USS LexingtonWhile Bob and I were in Corpus Christi, Texas in March of 2006, we had the opportunity to visit the USS Lexington, better known now, as The Blue Ghost. The ship was originally known as the Cabot, but after the USS Lexington CV-2 was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, she was renamed while under construction to commemorate the earlier USS Lexington. This Lexington was the fifth United States Navy ship to bear the name in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. In June of 1942, after the earlier USS Lexington was destroyed, workers at the shipyard submitted a request to Navy Secretary Frank Knox to change the name of a carrier currently under construction there to Lexington. Knox agreed to the proposal and Cabot was renamed as the fifth USS Lexington on 16 June 1942. She was launched on 23 September 1942, sponsored by Mrs Theodore Douglas Robinson. Lexington was commissioned on February 17, 1943.

I can’t say for sure if this Frank Knox was any relation to my husband’s Knox ancestors, but it wouldn’t uss-lexingtonsurprise me at all, since the Knox family was into politics, and even included a connection to President James Knox Polk. While I was originally writing this because on this day, December 5, 1941, the prior USS Lexington headed out to the Battle of Midway…a battle that it never made it to, because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That Lexington made it back to Pearl Harbor on December 13, 1941, so it was not much help. Later, the prior USS Lexington was destroyed in the Battle of Coral Sea, triggering the renaming of the USS Lexington that Bob and I saw.

The USS Lexington we saw was referred to as a “ghost” ship by the Japanese for her tendency to reappear after reportedly being sunk. This, coupled with the ship’s dark blue camouflage scheme, led the crew to refer to her as “The Blue Ghost”. There were rumors during the war that the ship was so badly damaged it had to be scuttled at one point, but a newly built aircraft carrier was immediately deployed with the same name, in an effort to demoralize the Japanese. I’m sure the whole situation was a serious frustration to the Japanese, but for Bob and me the legend that ship had Navy Secretary Frank Knoxbecome was something we found quite interesting.

That said, I now find something new to draw my interest…namely Navy Secretary Frank Knox. One thing I have noticed is that in many families, certain names seem to be used over and over. In Bob’s family, there is a Frank Knox, and in that lineage there are Williams and Johns. The same is the case with Navy Secretary Frank Knox’s lineage. For that reason, I expect that a connection exists, and with a little work, I think I will find it, if it exists. I like the challenges that come from trying to connect the missing links in our family, and when I can tie it to something I have personally seen, it is an even more exciting quest.

USS LexingtonTop of the USS LexingtonWhile Bob and I were in Texas on vacation in April of 2006, we had the wonderful opportunity to visit the USS Lexington…The Blue Ghost. This ship has a long and interesting history, and one I didn’t really know all that much about when I visited the ship. The ship we saw is not the original USS Lexington, but rather the one that replaced the original. The USS Lexington that we saw has an amazing history too…it is, in fact, a legend that was named for the American Revolution’s Battle of Lexington. On December 5, 1941, the original USS Lexington, which was one of the two largest aircraft carriers the United States had during World War II, was making its way across the Pacific in order to carry a squadron of dive bombers to defend Midway Island from an anticipated Japanese attack. The attack they anticipated did occur, but not where it had been expected. The attack was lodged on Pearl Harbor instead. The USS Lexington turned around and headed for Pearl Harbor, arriving on December 13th. That Lexington was later sunk.

In early May, the first USS Lexington returned to the South Pacific to assist the USS Yorktown to fight against the Japanese offensive in the Coral Sea. On May 7th and 8th of 1942 planes from the USS Lexington helped sink the small Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho and participated in attacks on the large carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. But, she was a major target of Japanese carrier planes and received two torpedo and three bomb hits. Initially, it appeared that the damage control efforts were successful, but she was racked by gasoline explosions early on the afternoon of May 8th. The fires were out of control, and it was clear that the Lexington was breathing her last breath. The ship was abandoned by her crew and it sunk. It was the first US aircraft carrier to be lost in World War II.

The second Lexington began its journey into fame on February 17, 1943, and it would serve longer and set more records than any other carrier in US Naval history. Originally to be named the Cabot, the name was changed after the sinking of the original Lexington in the Coral Sea. The Lexington became a part of the Fifth Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The ship took part in nearly every major operation in the Pacific Theater, serving 21 months in combat. It was here that the Lexington became famous in her own right. The Japanese radio station, the Tokyo Rose was always spreading rumors and propaganda. The station declared the Lexington sunk at least four times, but was proven wrong at the next battle, when the Lexington returned to the fight. I guess it must have been in an effort to save face that the Tokyo Rose dubbed the Lexington The Blue Ghost, indicating that it was a ghost ship returning to haunt the Japanese again and again. All the hard work paid off in the end though. The Lexington participated in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. She received the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 Battle Stars during her service in World War II, and she was the first battleship into Tokyo Harbor for the Japanese peace treaty signing.

By the time we visited the second USS Lexington, she had been a museum since October of 1992. The ship had been decommissioned in August of 1990, after serving as a training ship for naval aviators in Pensacola, Florida since 1962. She was moved to her permanent location in Corpus Christi, Texas in January of 1992. We had the wonderful opportunity to explore the ship to our hearts’ content while we were there. It was quite interesting to us. I didn’t know much about how things were on a ship, but I found myself amazed over and over again. The way the crew lived, seemed so archaic to me, but I suppose that anyone who has ever served on a ship would tell me that it was all very normal. Finding your way around seemed so difficult to me, and I know we would have been lost repeatedly, had they not marked the directions with arrows on the floor and walls. It was hard to imagine just what being on board this ship in the midst of a battle must have felt. I don’t think anyone goes to war without a measure of fear. Nevertheless, there was no going back for the men, and later, women who uss-lexingtonFlight Deck of the USS Lexingtonserved on the Lexington. The Lexington was the first aircraft carrier to have women stationed on board. These men and women served courageously and honorably, some giving their lives on the Lexington fighting the battles that were laid out before her. Knowing the history of this great ship leaves me with an entirely new perspective about what an awesome ship it was, and it makes me glad I had the opportunity to tour the USS Lexington.

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