May 1942: The Royal Treatment

Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare was one of the early heroes of World War II. On February 20th, 1942, as a formation of nine Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers approached the Lexington, O’Hare single-handedly shot down three planes and damaged three more while piloting his F4F Wildcat. His actions potentially saved the Lexington carrier from disaster. Two months after his heroics O’Hare traveled back to the States and received the Medal of Honor. During this trip he returned to his hometown, Saint Louis, and on April 25th the city threw him a parade.

1942: Parade for Edward O'Hare -
Front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 April 1942.

Aunt Frieda sent Elmer some newspaper clippings describing the festivities and celebrating O’Hare’s achievements. He was not impressed. “I see . . . that Lt. O’Hare the Navy flyer got a very warm reception in Saint Louis,” he wrote on May 6th. “He did a good piece of work, but it seems to me that ceremonies were a little strong for one man, considering all the other good flyers that are also doing their job. Typical attitude of the American public in general.”

At first blush this might seem like a jealous response, but it was no secret that O’Hare did not seek the extra attention. He reportedly wanted to return to his ship so that he could go back to the work of defeating Japan. In fairness to the American public, though, good news was a precious commodity during the early months of the war. Pearl Harbor stung in part because the Navy and Army were so ill-prepared to beat back the Japanese planes attacking them, and O’Hare more closely represented the image of steely courage under fire that Americans wanted to associate with their armed forces. In any case, while Elmer and O’Hare had radically different jobs, both men humbly took their duty to the Navy and their country seriously.

“Royal Hawaiian Hotel Postcard,” National Archives, ID #: WEB14230-2014

While ticker-tape parades for a single flyer might sound excessive to sailors, they did not reject other creature comforts when offered. For instance, Elmer finally got to stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for his birthday on May 7th. After spending the day “play[ing] ping-pong (table tennis) at the U.S.O.” and drinking “a few cold ‘beverages’ at the local spots,” he and his shipmate Johnny checked into the iconic Waikiki Beach hotel. They were treated to a free turkey dinner (“a real meal,” a Elmer put it), a movie, and an ice cream sundae at the bar before “turning in on that thick inner spring mattress bed.” He and Johnny shared a double room, which before Pearl Harbor would have cost $22 for the night. The pair only paid fifty cents, however, “for linen and laundry change.” Despite needing to get an early start in the morning for duty, Elmer declared that “it was a memorable birthday for me. I wish I could describe how beautiful the hotel and the surrounding scenery is, but take my word, it was beautiful!”

Elmer deserved a memorable birthday, but he also needed the good night’s rest provided by the hotel’s premium mattresses. On the 22nd he admitted to his folks that he wasn’t getting enough sleep. The long hours on watch and in the engine rooms were taking their toll on the engineering crew. The ship was spending more time at sea as well, and later that month the Chew began escorting other vessels between Oahu and the other Hawaiian islands. Still, as usual, Elmer characterized himself as being “in the best of health and spirits,” and approached the discomfort poetically: “All in all we can’t complain. Good chow and bunk – lot of time on the water and lack of sleep at times . . . the roll and rock of the ship, the hum of the turbine, and steam heat on my face are part of the job. Of course,” he added somewhat cryptically, “there are other parts I can’t go into right now.”

Indeed, Elmer did have it better than many others. On November 26th, 1943, Lieutenant Commander O’Hare’s F6F disappeared during a nighttime mission over the Pacific Ocean. The Navy reported him Missing in Action. After a year of waiting and hoping, the United States government declared him deceased and released his Medal of Honor and other decorations to his wife, Rita.

Next Entry:
June, July, and August 1942: High Water Marks

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