Most folks know that Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (KORD) is named for US Navy Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in defending the USS Lexington from an attack by nine Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers on 20 February, 1942.
O’Hare would later be killed during a night interception in 1943. And eventually Chicago’s Orchard Depot Airport would be renamed in his honor.
A couple weeks ago, friend of the blog Craig Swain posted an interesting question- what was the first airfield named after O’Hare? I had to admit, I didn’t know off the top of my head, and had to cheat a little and use Google.
By the closing months of 1943, the brutal campaign for Guadalcanal had been completed, and sufficient Army and Marine forces for the remainder of the Solomons campaign meant that the 2nd Marine Division would be available to begin a campaign in the Central Pacific. It was this campaign the USS Enterprise was supporting when CDR O’Hare was killed, on 26 November, 1943.
Most people know of the prime thrust of the Gilberts campaign, the bloody Battle of Tarawa. But another island in the chain was seized against only token resistance. Marines landed on Abemama on 24 November, 1943, and by the 26th, construction of an airfield began. The airfield would be needed to support operations against the next chain in the Central Pacific, the Marshalls. The US Army Air Forces 7th Air Force would use the base at Abemama for B-25 Mitchell and B-24 Liberator bombers. So, the Marines seized the island. And the airfield would be Army. But it was the US Navy Seabees who were building the field. And since they were building it, they got to name it. And upon learning of the loss of CDR O’Hare, the field was, indeed, christened O’Hare Field.
By mid December, 1943, the field was ready, and the field became home to the 30th Bomb Group. Improvements to the field continued, with the runway being lengthened, In those days before environmentalism was even a word, runways were made by the simple expedient of crushing coral, grading it, and rolling it smooth. Unlike sand or dirt, crushed corral runways needed no Marston matting, and were firm and drained well. Taxiways and hardstands were similarly constructed for the 100 or so aircraft based there.
The pace of operations in 1944 meant that by May, 1944, O’Hare Field was a backwater, used for maintenance mostly. The 30th Bomb Group moved on to new airfields closer to the heart of the Japanese Empire. By the fall of 1944, the formerly bustling O’Hare field was decommissioned.
Today, Abemama, part of the Republic of Kiribati, still uses the wartime expedient airfield, with three Air Kiribati flights a week to Tarawa.