The Hoodlum & The Hero
Back in the 1920s and 1930 there was a gangster in Chicago named Al Capone who was considered the most influential man in Chicago. This isn’t hard to do if you have your hands in everything and a whole mob of hit men who, if you didn’t do as they said, released you quickly from any other responsibilities in this world with one or a dozen machine gun bullets. Their existence depended on a well-filled purse to the politician as high as the highest and generous subsidy to the police. These generous bribes were founded on bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, murder, extortion and any of a dozen more illegal acts backed up by his mob of gunmen.
Now of course, even with such unbridled ferocity, every so often the Federal government would step into the picture to try to clean it up, and when they did, you had to have a lawyer. Not any old lawyer, but someone who could explain away the huge sums of money collected and dispensed as bribes. BRIBE is a deadly sin to the Department of Revenue. So, if you are Capone, you must have a top line lawyer who could find a reasonable excuse for your boys and their pop guns and keep your skirts clean. Anything to rouse that little doubt in the minds of the jurors. That meant freedom even after six men were shot dead in broad daylight with a dozen witnesses on the scene.
Chief among these gangster’s lawyers was a man with the nickname of Easy Eddie. He was not only good, but his skill at legal maneuvering kept not only Big Al out of jail but also most of his gang. To show his appreciation Capone paid Eddie very well indeed, including special dividends, such as a house that covered a whole block in Chicago with an iron fence around it and live-in help. Eddie lived the high life of the very successful mobster. He knew what he was doing and from where the money came.
Then came a time when fortunately or unfortunately (you may choose one or the other) Eddie’s wife gave birth to a son which uncovered Easy Eddie’s Achilles heel. Eddie loved that son and saw to his education. Nothing was withheld, price was no object and despite his own ties to the mob, Eddie decided that his son would know right from wrong.
Yes, suddenly, Eddie was trying to teach his son virtue. He wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet with all his wealth and influence there were two things Eddie could not give his son, a good name and a good example because Eddie, earlier in his life, had sold his soul to the Devil. As the years passed, these two things became a constant goad to Easy Eddie.
(This sounds like fiction, but it is true. Remember, ye olde editor lived through this period and often wondered how it was ever going to be stopped.)
Easy Eddie thought long and hard before coming up with his answer. It meant that he must sacrifice everything even life itself to make sure that his son would make the right decisions. So, on one eventful day, Eddie went to the Federal Government and testified to all that he knew, which was everything about the mob.
Within a year Easy Eddie’s life was ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely side street in Chicago. The Devil had to be paid.
However, his sacrifice crumbled the Chicago gangster’s house of cards beyond repair. Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had left to offer, his life.
So ended this cancer. Chicago was clean once more, or, at least as clean as any large city could be.
It was February 20, 1942. A task force consisting of the carriers Lexington and Yorktown with 12 cruisers and 16 destroyers under the Command of Vice Admiral Wilson Brown were sent to bomb the Japanese Naval base at Raboul. One of the group of flyers noticed that his fuel tanks had not been topped off. He notified the Commander of his plight and was told to return to the carrier.
As he was returning, he saw a sight that turned his blood to ice. A huge Japanese bomber formation was about to hit his task force. He notified the task force and they immediately recalled the flight sent to Raboul, planes that were already some distance away.
With that done, the flyer decided that he was going to take this enemy formation on and divert them from the fleet below. Laying all thoughts of personal safety aside, he dove into the formation attacking one very surprised plane after another. He wove in between them, wove in and out of the now broken up Japanese formation. Finally, with his ammunition completely spent, he hit upon the idea of trying to clip a wing, a stabilizer or even a rudder to keep the enemy plane from reaching his task force. Suddenly the Japanese force turned away only to be met by the recalled planes. Eighteen Japanese bombers were destroyed that day. The task force was saved. The photo camera of this pilot’s plane had registered every move he had made.
Butch, this ferocious flyer, was credited with five sure kills, (the first ace in this war) and the saving of possible disastrous consequences to the task force. For this bravery, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, also the first of this war. A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29.
Chicago, the fallen pilot’s birthplace, was not about to forget the memory of that pilot's heroic act and allow that honor to fade, so it named one of the largest civilian airports in the world after him, the O’Hare International Airport. You can find a statue of this great fighter and Medal of Honor holder between terminals 1 and 2. His full name was Lieutenant Commander Edward (Butch) O’Hare.
What is the connection between these two tales other than the contrast between good and evil? A Lieutenant Commander, Medal of Honor winner and first great ace of the war for whom Chicago had named one of the busiest and finest airports in the world as a memorial. O’Hare, a name that is mentioned millions of times each day throughout the world, and Easy Eddie, a common hoodlum, criminal, and gangster?
It is that the father of Lieutenant Commander Edward (Butch) O’Hare was Edward O’Hare Sr. (a.k.a. - Easy Eddie) who paid the price of redemption, a bushwhacking on a lonely side street in Chicago, so his son would know right from wrong and have a name of which he could be proud .
An aside: Found in Easy Eddie's pockets when police discovered him: a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, a gun he was never able to use, and a poem clipped from a magazine.
The complete poem reads:
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.
To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is more.
To lose one's soul is such a loss
as no man can restore.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow, for
The clock may then be still.
Robert H. Smith
Included in our research to complete this story were the American Naval history by Jack Sweetman, US naval Institute Press.
Microfilm examination of 1931 newspapers on the Al Capone Trial, 1931. Philadelphia Public Library.
Ye Olde Editor
© 2004 All rights reserved.