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The War Hero and the Gangster

February 27, 2011

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) – Author Unknown

These two stories  must be read in sequence.

Two Tales of The War Hero and the Gangster  

STORY NUMBER ONE

Many years ago, the famous gangster 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 helped run Capone’s horse and dog track operation in Chicago. 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 ‘Easy Eddie’ got special dividends. For his reward of good work, 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 it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocities that went on around him.

Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he was very devoted to and loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had the best of everything: a good education, clothes, and as he grew older, cars. 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 and a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He reached a point when 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.

Eddie decided to secretly become an informant for the Internal Revenue Service and it was with his help that the government convicted and imprisoned Capone for income tax evasion. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great.

So, he testified. Frank J. Wilson, the Treasury Department investigator who had worked on the case described ‘Easy Eddie’ as one of his best undercover men. Some have said that Eddie became an informant because of a change of heart and a desire to go straight. Others have said it was merely his way of saving his neck in the face of potential prosecution.

Eddie’s close confidants said it was because of his son.

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 would 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.

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific and was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions against the Japanese in defending the U.S.S. Lexington.

According to the official citation of his Medal of Honor, he won the recognition “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat…” It says he was the section leader of Fighting Squadron 3 on February 20, 1942.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. Six Wildcats were sent into the air to protect the Lexington from Japanese bombers as a squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet.

O’Hare and his wingman spotted the enemy planes first. The wingman’s guns jammed, however, and the other four planes were too far behind. He couldn’t reach his squadron and he knew the fleet was all but defenseless.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. So O’Hare faced 9 twin-engine Japanese bombers alone.

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 O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the mother ship. 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 and damaged one.

This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, the Medal of Honor citation calls it “…one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation…”

A year later, in November of 1943, Butch O’Hare was killed during the battle for the Gilbert Islands in the South Pacific. He was accidentally shot down by another American plane during a night mission at the age of 29. His hometown would not allow the memory of this WW II 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.

So, what do these two stories have to do with each other?

Butch O’Hare was ‘Easy Eddie’s’ son.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. CTconserv permalink
    February 27, 2011 8:55 pm

    I was pleased that Capone’s lawyer, Easy Eddie had a measure of honor and decency in his character. It revealed itself in the love he had for his son Butch O’Hare.
    Because of his love for his son he turned from being a ganster to a man of honor and turned away from the gangster lifestyle for the sake of his son, who he loved greatly. Easy Eddie helped the prosecuters charge Al Capone with tax evasion. His son, Butch O’hare, was the beneficiary of Eddie’s 180* turn.
    I charged into the next story about Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare without thinking of the connection ( very nicely done, Kelly! )While reading how Butch took it upon himself to stave off the enemy fighter planes, during WWII of course I start balling… And I was so proud of his courage, and audacious bravery. Because Eddie O’Hare had love for his son he gave up much. Thanks to his love for his son, and we ALL benefitted.
    Butch O’Hare fought for us and the U.S. “Thankyou Eddie and Butch O’Hare… ” Thank you, Kelly, for these moving stories that remind us that the choices we make effect the close ones around us for good or for bad. Thankyou for telling – One of the most moving stories I’ve ever read .
    CTconserv Faith

    • klsouth permalink*
      February 28, 2011 3:32 am

      I’m actually moved by your comments and love. Thank you Faith.

  2. April 21, 2011 10:34 pm

    Thank you for these stories Kelly. Like Faith I read the second story without making the connection until your O. Henryesque ending.

    Some years ago I did visit Butch O’Hare’s memorial at the airport during a layover when I had some time to kill. Should I pass through there again I will visit the memorial again with a new understanding.

    Andi

    • klsouth permalink*
      June 28, 2011 6:57 pm

      Thank You Andi. Being in Chicago, I passed it for years without taking notice myself. I know stop every time I have a chance and re-read Butch’s honors.

  3. Heather permalink
    June 29, 2011 6:01 am

    Thanks for keeping history alive Kelly!
    This is a story every Chicagoan should know about and you tell it so well.

  4. July 9, 2011 1:08 am

    I lived in and around Chicago most of my young life and never heard that story. I must have read the Butch O’Hare plaque once or twice, having spent much time in that airport waiting for a flight, or waiting for someone special’s arrival. I never heard the story because no one until you, Kelly, could give it such a tender and unique life. Thanks.

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