Al Capone ran the city of Chicago during the prohibition era (1920-1933). Alcohol was banned by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But Capone capitalized on the unpopular law. It made him rich and powerful and the target of law enforcement agencies – both local and federal. But he remained untouchable.
“Easy Eddie” emerged as his top legal counsel. An attorney who amassed a fortune in St. Louis, Easy Eddie built a second even larger personal fortune as Capone’s first lieutenant in organized crime in the windy city of Chicago. Capone paid him handsomely. A key strategy in the game was to keep “the Boss” isolated and insulated from any apparent connection to illegal activities.
Eddie raised a respectable family. He built a large, magnificent estate outside the city. He was a disciplinarian; he expected hard work, loyalty and respect. But he saw too much. Knew too much. Capone’s thugs roughed up just one too many of the innocents. Fast Eddie had enough. The contradictions got to him. He had a son. He wanted more for him than a dressed up life of crime.
So Eddie took what he knew and brought it to the authorities. He talked. In a high profile court case, in which Al Capone stood in the dock before a District Attorney who accused him of twenty-three counts of tax evasion, fast Eddie took the stand. He gave the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) all they needed. They brought it to the judge and the jury. The feds won a long sought after conviction. Capone was sent to Alcatraz.
On November 8, 1939, on a wide Chicago boulevard, just days before Capone’s release, a black sedan pulled up next to Eddie’s Lincoln Zephyr coupe, and with automatic weapons in gangland style, peppered Eddie’s car with lead. They left the bullet ridden luxury automobile sitting in the afternoon light, radiator steaming, Eddie slumped over the wheel. Most Chicagoans could identify the perpetrator. But none could prove the connection.
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Lt. Commander “Butch” O’Hare pulled back on the stick of his powerful F4F Wildcat. He felt the bottom drop slightly, then catch as he reached the end of the launch ramp. The nose of his fighter plane tilted upward and he felt the power of the radial engine and the Aircraft Carrier Lexington dropped away behind him. He joined his squadron for their assigned mission. He made some quick calculations.
They were about a half-hour out when it became clear. Butch’s F4F had not been refueled to capacity as it should. He would not have enough to make it to the target and then return home to the carrier deck. He signaled his wingman, “Duff” Dufino. The two turned back.
But on the way home, he saw a collection of familiar silhouettes glittering in the clouds below. He dropped a few thousand feet. His training kicked in. It was clear. A formation of nine Japanese Mitsubishi G4M twin engine heavy bombers – “Bettys” the guys called them – headed straight for the Lexington and its escorts. The American vessels were sitting ducks. Butch called on all his training. He signaled Duff. They went to work.
With precision and focus and skill, Butch and his wingman Duff dove toward the enemy squadron. Duff’s guns jammed. Butch O’Hare would be on his own.
Here’s the commendation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he presented Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare with the Medal of Honor.
“Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lt. O’Hare interposed his fighter between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of nine attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lt. O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action–one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation–he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.”
In fact, the three remaining bombers, so terrified by the effective attack (from a single American pilot) turned and went home.
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Pastor Chico Goff shared these two stories in a biblical Sunday morning message on the subject of integrity. “How do these two stories relate to one another?” Chico asked rhetorically.
“Easy Eddie,” Capone’s attorney, was Edward Joseph O’Hare, Chico said. His son was Edward Henry O’Hare. “Butch” O’Hare. Both Edward O’Hare. Father and son.
In 1939, Butch’s father was shot in cold blood in the streets of Chicago – gangland style – presumably the price he paid for telling the truth. In 1943, just four years later, Butch O’Hare single-handedly saved an aircraft carrier, her crew and escorts from sure destruction.
Chico raised the question – would the young Ace have been an Ace at all without a father who chose integrity over ill-gotten wealth and power?
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. Our choices matter. Our kids (and grandkids) are watching.
Now you know how Chicago’s busiest airport got its name. He’s a Chicago hero. A Chicago legend.
O’Hare International Airport.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2007