Against of backdrop of sleaze and malfeasance of the 1920s mobster era, two heroes would arise, their tales so extraordinary that one almost judges them as “fake news.” It is not just because of these two men’s undeniable bravery that these tales need to be read. Moreover, it is how these disparate events could be so inextricably linked that is the clincher.
Main picture: Al “Scarface” Capone
Tale of heroism and absolution
Every piece of social engineering engenders an unintended consequence. So it was with the greatest social experiment in the 1920s: prohibition. Like present day Russia, America was experiencing all the social ills relating to unbridling overconsumption of liquor: poverty, marital neglect, aggressive antisocial behaviour and spousal abuse.
It was to address these ills that prohibition was introduced with much fanfare. While it did reduce the rate of alcohol imbibing, it also spawned a slew of ruthless gangsters to meet the market demand for bootlegged booze. In was into this milieu that Al Capone was thrust.
Shortly afterwards, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone was not famous for anything heroic. Rather he was notorious for enmeshing the Windy City in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.
Like all successful mob bosses, Capone also had his “tame” lawyer who was nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal manoeuvring kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. “Easy Eddie” became Scarface’s business partner and he assisted in running his horse and dog track operation in Chicago.
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. No expense was spared. Price was no object.
Yet, despite Easy Eddie’s 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. Despite all his wealth and influence, there were two things that he could not provide his son. He could not pass on a good name or set a good example.
One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. It would be his Damascus moment. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs that he had done.
He decided that 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. Yet despite the risks and loss of income, he decided to secretly become an informant for the Internal Revenue Service. It was with his assistance and testimony, that the government convicted and imprisoned Capone for income tax evasion.
Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. However, 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 clipping from a magazine. It profoundly 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.”
Now to tale number two!
Tale of heroism during WW2
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 up his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and return 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 away on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenceless. He could not contact 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 calibre machine guns 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. For that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honour. 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. According to an article on aviation-history.com, six Wildcats were sent into the air to protect the Lexington from Japanese bombers. O’Hare and his wingman spotted the enemy planes first. The wingman’s guns jammed, however, and the other four planes were too far away, so O’Hare faced 9 twin-engine Japanese bombers alone. He shot down five of them and damaged a sixth before other U.S. fighters arrived. No enemy bombs made it to the Lexington.
O’Hare was killed in November of 1943 during the battle for the Gilbert Islands in the South Pacific. He was accidentally shot down by another American plane during a night mission.
His home town 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, if ever you are at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honour. It is located between Terminals 1 and 2.
So what is the connection between these two men?
Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie” O’Hare’s son.