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Truth and bravery make an airport's name

Posted: July 19, 2012 4:58 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I was walking through a gigantic American airport last week when I happened upon a plaque which stirred a memory of two stories from long ago. A bit of research on the Internet -- gosh, it’s easy to find out things these days -- turned up the information below.

At some point in the past -- many years ago, it would have been -- I think I might have told you this story, and I don’t claim it as my own. Maybe you’ll remember the details; maybe not.

Back in the roaring ’20s, when Al Capone controlled Chicago, he had a lawyer named “Easy Eddie,”  a skilled attorney whose legal maneuvering kept Capone out of jail for long years.

To show his appreciation for his attorney’s expertise, Capone paid him well, including providing a fenced-in mansion that occupied an entire city block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob scene and gave little thought to the evil he was condoning.

Eddie had one soft spot, however: his son, whom he loved dearly. He gave him the best and withheld nothing. Price was no object. And despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong, hoping the boy would grow to be a better man than his father.

Yet with all he could provide the boy, there was one thing he couldn’t pass on: a good name, or a good example. But one day he reached a difficult decision, deciding to go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone and his murderous activities.

In deciding to do that, he knew the price he would pay. And indeed, within a year, Easy Eddie lay dead in a lonely Chicago street, killed in a blaze of mob gunfire.

Yet in his own eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he could provide: that of truth and example, offered at the ultimate price.

Story number two:

In the dark days of World War II, Lt. Commander Butch O’Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the South Pacific theater. One day on a mission with his squadron, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized someone had forgotten to top off the tank; he wouldn’t have enough fuel to complete his mission and return to his ship safely.

On orders from his flight leader, he reluctantly dropped out of formation, only to spot a squadron of Japanese aircraft speeding towards the American fleet. With other fighter planes in his squadron gone on searches, the fleet was all but defenseless.

Alone in the air, and throwing aside all thoughts of personal safety, Butch O’Hare dove into the formation of Japanese planes, blazing his 50-caliber machine guns as he charged in, attacking one enemy plane after another.

His ammunition finally spent, he continued the assault, diving at Japanese planes, trying to clip a wing or otherwise damage them and render them unable to fly. Finally, the frustrated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to his aircraft, the film from his gun-mounted camera revealing the truth:  he’d destroyed five enemy planes and saved his own ships.

That incident of bravery took place Feb. 20, 1942, and for that action Butch O’Hare became the Navy’s first ace of World War II and the first Naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A year later, he was killed in aerial combat at age 29. His home town refused to let his memory die, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Two stories, seemingly unrelated, unless you’ve guessed by now that Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.

The next time you find yourself at O’Hare Airport, crossroads of the Midwest, give some thought to visiting the memorial to Butch, located between terminals one and two, just where I found it last week. There’s a statue of him there, along with his Medal of Honor.

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