Ken Beaton: The tide turned

Raise your hand if you’ve landed at Chicago’s Midway Airport to board a connecting flight. Keep your hands up if you landed at Concourse A and your connecting flight was at Concourse B or vice versa.

Did you notice a US Navy World War II propeller plane hanging from the ceiling between the two concourses? It’s a SBD-Dauntless, which stands for Scout Bomber Douglas, not what you’re thinking. However, it was extremely deadly to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

In 1949, Chicago renamed its airport, Midway International Airport, after the June 4 to 6, 1942 battle. Military historian, John Keegan, referred to the battle of Midway, “The most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

The aircraft carriers USS Yorktown, CV-5, and USS Enterprise, CV-6, sent a total of three squadrons of SBDs, VB-3, VS-6 and VB-6, which simultaneously attacked and sunk the Japanese carriers Soryu and Kaga on June 4, 1942. The Japanese carriers Akagi and Hiryu were sunk on June 5. Those carriers were four of the six Japanese carriers which attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier, payback time.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, IJN, suffered staggering losses; four fleet carriers, one heavy cruiser, 248 aircraft and 3,057 killed in action, KIA. The IJN was never able to replace those carriers nor the experienced pilots and maintenance crewmen. The US Navy lost CV-5, the USS Yorktown, one destroyer, 150 aircraft and 307 KIA.

The USS Enterprise, “The Big E,” earned its first of 20 Battle Stars at Midway. The Big E became the most decorated World War II ship in the US Navy. Lt. Jack C. Taylor was a naval aviator who flew a F4F “Wildcat” fighter off the flight deck of the Big E from 1942 to 1945. In 1957, he began a home town car rental business which became Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Jack became a billionaire because he believed, “Take care of your customers and employees first and profits will follow.”

Maybe you’ve flown in or out of Chicago’s other airport, O’Hare International Airport. Originally, the airport was named Orchard Field Airport, ORD, in 1942. In 1949, the airport was named after US Naval Aviator, Edward “Butch” O’Hare Jr. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1937, entered Navy flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1939 to earn his aviator’s wings. In December 1941, he met Rita and married her six weeks later.

On Feb. 20, 1942, Lt. Commander O’Hare and his wing man were the only defenders in the air between five Japanese bombers and the USS Lexington, CV-2. Lt. O’Hare and his wing man attack the Japanese bombers. His wing man’s machine guns jammed, forcing him to return to the Lexington. Lt. O’Hare shot down all five enemy bombers using a total of 300 rounds, 60 rounds per enemy bomber, deadly accurate. He was the Navy’s first Ace and the first naval aviator awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. Twenty-one months later, Nov. 27, 1943, he was killed in action as his plane was shot down near Tarawa, one of the Gilbert Islands. His widow, Rita, and their 8-month-old daughter, Kathleen, mourned his loss.

If you pass through O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 2, you will see likeness of Lt. Commander Edward O’Hare’s plane hanging in Terminal 2. Midway and O’Hare International Airports have reminders for everyone who passes through, what others did for you. At Midway Airport in May 2016, I looked up while walking to my connecting flight and saw a story.

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.


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