Chicago has two memorable stories, stories that seem to be very much unrelated, but . . . once again, Virg Hemphill reminds us on this MEMORIAL DAY, to stop and reflect about our nation’s amazing history. Here are those two Chicago stories. Both unique – – – and both the amazing truth.
STORY NUMBER ONE
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 Capone’s 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 Eddie got special dividends, as well. 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 it 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. But he testified, anyway.
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.”
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 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 was speeding its 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, 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 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 W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the 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 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.
Editor’s Note: I was blessed to have been a guest among the official delegation at the actual Name Commissioning of O’Hare Airport back in 1949. My father, a Navy vet himself, had known young Eddie O’Hare during the early war years, and was the Navy official at the event, so he (thankfully) took his son along for the historic occasion. It was then that I first heard this amazing story, although related to me in a less dramatic form. The official story, as told to the assembled crowd at the occasion, made no mention whatsoever about the hero’s father. Of course, Chicago O’Hare field went on to become the world’s busiest airport and remains a major hub for much of the continental – and international – air traffic in the nation.