THE GANGSTER’S SON WHO BECAME AN AIRPORT

On Wednesday, November 8, 1939, a 46 year old man left his office at Sportsman’s Park in Cicero, Chicago 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” “Easy” had once been attorney and business partner to the notorious Al Capone, and he had 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. 

At the time, there was a fanciful theory doing the rounds that by turning informer he hoped to teach his son “Butch” a lesson in morality; or did he do it to save his own skin?

A week after Easy Eddie’s murder, Capone was released from Alcatraz; soon after, Frank Nitti, his second in command, married Ursula Sue Granata, “Easy’s” fiancée.

Did his son learn his lesson in personal morality?

Decide for yourself …

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

About the time his father was being slaughtered in the street, Butch was graduating from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He started flight training soon afterwards, and in 1940 he was assigned to the USS 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 nine Japanese Betty heavy bombers with just enough ammunition for 34 seconds of firing.

 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.’

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.

He received further decorations in 1943 for his actions in battles near Marcus Island and Wake Island. 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.)

What was the lesson? It seems we all have a choice who we’re going to be. It’s not all down to genetics.

We can get dirty rich by becoming some thug’s right hand man, or we can be the guy who puts his life on the line for his country and is remembered every time someone lands at O’Hare international airport. 

That man or woman we see in the mirror every morning is our creation, and no one else is responsible.

Perhaps think of that the next time your pilot says: “Welcome ladies and gentleman to Chicago …”

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Colin Falconer

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