Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Chicago's O'Hare Field Named for the Son of One of Al Capone's Associates

Times-Union readers want to know:

An e-mail I received contains two stories: one about "Easy Eddie," who was Al Capone's lawyer who lived the high life of the Chicago mob, and the other about war hero Lt. Cmdr. Butch O'Hare. They are great tales, but are they true? They are great tales and, except for a little exaggeration and some speculation, much of the information in the e-mail is true.

The stories are too lengthy to reprint in full, but here's an abridged version:

"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 and gave him a mansion with all conveniences.

"Eddie gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him, but he did have one soft spot - a son whom he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had nice clothes, cars and a good education. Price was no object. "And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach his son right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

"One day, Easy Eddie decided to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would testify against the mob and Capone, clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. "So he testified. In 1932, Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In 1939, Easy Eddie was gunned down on a lonely Chicago street. Most people credited Capone's people for the hit.

"Police removed from Eddie's pockets a gun, 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.'"

The second story

"World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lt. Butch O'Hare, a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

"On Feb. 20, 1942, his entire squadron was sent on a mission but O'Hare soon realized his fuel tank was too low. He headed back to the fleet and noticed that a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the Lexington.

"Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he engaged the formation of Japanese planes. He fired at the planes until all his ammunition was spent, then dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail. Finally, the Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

"Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. He had destroyed five enemy aircraft and, for that, became the Navy's first ace of World War 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 memory is kept alive as Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named for him."

The kicker

So, the e-mail asks, what do these two stories have to do with each other?

Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son.

Numerous historical accounts show that Edward Joseph "Easy Eddie" O'Hare was Capone's lawyer and a partner in some of the gangster's criminal activities. Easy Eddie had a hand in running Capone's horse and dog track operations; in fact, earlier in his career he was a partner with the man who invented the "rabbit" that greyhounds chase around the track. He did help the government imprison Capone on tax evasion charges but accounts differ as to whether he did that after an attack of conscience or because he saw a way to keep himself out of prison.

Eddie also might have made a deal to get his son into the Naval Academy, according to the organized crime section of the Illinois Police and Sheriff's News (IPSN) website. Eddie's son, Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, did indeed shoot down five Japanese fighters and disable a sixth, according to the historical accounts. The shootout took place within sight of hundreds of Lexington crew members, according to IPSN. O'Hare was being fired on with machine guns and cannons from all angles, but he "just kept moving," one eyewitness report said.

Lt. Butch O'Hare received the Medal of Honor in 1942 for his actions defending the Lexington and was promoted to lieutenant commander. The medal citation calls it "... one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation. ..."

O'Hare was killed in November 1943 when his plane went down during the battle for the Gilbert Islands in the South Pacific, but there's controversy over what led to his death. In the biography of O'Hare, "Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare" co-authors John Lundstrom and Steve Ewing write that he was shot down by a Japanese bomber. Other accounts say he was shot down by friendly fire during a night mission.
A 1947 Collier's magazine article about Easy Eddie O'Hare stated that his work as an informant helped win public favor for him, the fact-finding website Truthorfiction.com reports.

In 1949, Orchard Field Airport was renamed O'Hare to honor Easy Eddie's son, World War II ace Butch O'Hare.

Thanks to Carole Fader

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