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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Butch O'Hare

About eight years ago I stumbled across the following two part story on, of all places, a Yahoo message board for stocks. Someone had pasted it in without listing the author, so I am unable to give the writer credit for this well wrought story. I printed it out and saved it because I found it quite amazing, and quite affecting:

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was his lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good. In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but also, Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that if filled an entire Chicago city block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al "Scarface" Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great.

So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay.

Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop,
at late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.


World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold: a squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of WWII, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29.

His hometown would not allow the memory of this WWII hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So, the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.


Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son.

As I said, it was quite affecting.

But a story like this also calls for a little research, so I recently did a little search to find out if it was entirely true. It turned out the part about Butch O'Hare is completely factual -- he did single-handedly attack that Japanese squadron, his medals were awarded, he is well established in military lore, and Chicago's airport is named after him.

The story about his father was, well, maybe a little stretched. Easy Eddie was, in fact, Capone's lawyer, he did testify against him, and he was killed in a blaze of gunfire on a Chicago street a little while later, almost certainly by Capone's henchmen. But it seems that the real reason Easy Eddie testified against Capone was most likely to save his own skin and stay out of prison. (His FBI handler, Fred Wilson, later said that Eddie was the best witness he ever had.) It also turned out that he was not only Capone's lawyer but his business partner as well, and he actually helped plan some of Capone's nefarious schemes. He did love his son, who was spoiled as a young boy but evidently straightened out as a teenager. And he probably made a deal with Wilson that his own crimes not prevent his son's admission to Annapolis.

I was unable to establish one way or the other whether the bit about the crucifix and the poem in his pocket was true.

But I have to admit, I sort of wish I hadn't done the research. I liked the story better the way it was originally told.


Anonymous said...

Great story. It deserves its embellishment more than most. (I didn't know who O'Hare was named for - I had assumed it was a local pol.)

John Craig said...

Guy -- Thank you. It really moved me when I read it, which is why I printed it out and kept it all these years.