Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A BETTER MAN: THE STORY BEHIND CHICAGO'S AIRPORT



On Wednesday, November 8, 1939, a 46 year old man left his office at Sportsman's Park in Cicero, and drove away in a black 1939 Lincoln Zephyr coupe. At the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a dark sedan roared up beside him and two men opened fire with shotguns. He died instantly.

The dead man was Edward Joseph O'Hare:"Easy Eddie" He had once been attorney and business partner to the notorious Al Capone, the murderous crime boss of Chicago, and he built a huge fortune on the association. But in 1931 he decided to co-operate with the authorities at Capone’s trial for tax evasion. 



There’s a fanciful theory that by turning informer he hoped to teach his son a lesson in morality; but it’s much more likely he did it to save his own skin. Easy Eddie’s entire life had been devoted to the main chance.

A week after his murder Capone was released from Alcatraz; several months later Frank Nitti, Al Capone's second in command, married Ursula Sue Granata, O'Hare's fiancée.

No one was ever charged with the crime.



O’Hare’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, was 25 years old when his father was killed. ‘Easy’ had divorced his mother when Butch was thirteen, and Butch stayed behind in St Louis when his father moved to Chicago.

Six years later he graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the year his father died he had just started flight training at NAS Pensacola in Florida. In 1940 he was assigned to the USS Saratoga, to Fighter Squadron 3, later transferring to the Lexington.

On February 20, 1942. O'Hare and his wingman were the only U.S. Navy fighters in the air when a wave of Japanese bombers flew towards the Lexington in enemy-held waters north of New Ireland. 

His wingman’s guns jammed so Butch became the aircraft carrier’s only protection. He attacked the nine Japanese Betty heavy bombers with just enough ammunition for 34 seconds of firing.

Lieutenant O'Hare is second from the right in the front row


In the words of his citation: ‘...alone and unaided he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire ... by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skilful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, he shot down 5 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 or even loss.’

'Butch' in his F4F-3 Wildcat


With his ammunition expended, O'Hare returned to his carrier, and was fired on accidentally by a .50-caliber machine gun on the Lexington. Once landed, Butch approached the gun platform and said to the embarrassed anti-aircraft gunner, "Son, if you don't stop shooting at me when I've got my wheels down, I'm going to have to report you to the gunnery officer."

For this action, O’Hare became the first naval aviator to receive the Medal of Honor. A welcome parade in his hometown of St Louis was attended by 60,000 people.

'Butch' receives his Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt


He received further decorations in 1943 for his actions in battles near Marcus Island and Wake Island. But sadly, Butch did not survive the war; he was shot down on a night mission on November 26, 1943, near Tarawa. Neither his body nor his aircraft were ever found. 

He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

Four years after the war Chicago’s Orchard Depot Airport was renamed O'Hare International Airport in his honour. A training F4F Wildcat similar to the one flown by Butch is currently on display in Terminal 2.



I wrote this post not through historical interest, but for a good friend of mine; she is worried about her little boy. When she found out about her ex husband’s criminal past - and criminal present - she thought that because he had his genes he was fated to grow up just like him. But I don’t think that’s the way it works; my grandfather was a violent drunk and a bully. I have his genes. But I like to think I did not inherit any of his traits.

I believe we have a choice about the kind of man, or woman, we are going to be. Our memories can be despised or celebrated; we can choose to be Capone’s right hand man or we can become the guy who puts their lives on the line for our friends and comrades, our cause and our country. 

In the end I believe that the man or woman we see in the mirror every morning is our creation, and no one else is responsible.

Don’t you?




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