Al Capone, a Famous Airport and a Memorial Day Salute to a REAL American Hero

Let me tell you a story about which you may not be aware: the story of how O’Hare airport got its name.

“Eddie” was a member of the mob.  He was famous for making a fortune on the dog tracks in the 1920’s and 30”s, and for being one of Al Capone’s lawyers and business partners.  But he later “decided” to help the feds put Capone away for income tax evasion.  Eventually, while he was still behind bars, Capone had Eddie killed in retaliation for Eddie’s role in putting Capone in jail.

Now, “Eddie” had a son, a son who would eventually go to the U.S. Naval academy and, eventually, become a fighter pilot.  O’Hare became one of the star pupils of another fighter pilot who would eventually become a very famous hero early in WW II, John “Jimmie” Thach.  Thach taught Eddie’s son the art of aerial gunnery, a skill he would soon put to the ultimate test.

As part of America’s drive to strike back at the Japanese in the early days of WW II, even before the Doolittle raid, the Navy sent the aircraft carrier, USS Lexington, to bomb the Japanese strong hold of Rabaul.  However, before the Lexington could get close enough to launch her raid on Rabaul, she was spotted by a Japanese patrol plane.  Thach and his wingman shot it down while Eddie’s son was told to circle the Lexington.  Later, a second Japanese flying boat was detected and another flight was sent to shoot it down.  Eddies son was told to circle – again.  A few hours later, nine Japanese bombers, known to the allies as “Betties,” attacked the Lexington.  Again, Thach led the American fighters against the attacking bombers, and again, Eddie’s son was told to circle the Lexington in reserve.  Thach broke up the attack and the Lexington escaped unharmed.  That’s when Eddie’s son stepped into the pages of history.

Another group of eight Betties was seen attacking from the north.  Eddie’s son and his wingman were the only two fighters in position to intercept the bombers before they could drop their bombs.  Unfortunately, it was discovered that Eddie’s wingman’s guns didn’t work.  A design flaw in the Wildcat, the American fighter they were flying, had jammed the ammunition belts, preventing the guns from firing.  This left Eddie’s son as the only fighter between the eight bombers and the Lexington.  He didn’t hesitate, Eddie’s son dove to the attack.

On his first firing pass, Eddie’s son shot down one bomber and knocked another out of formation, trailing flames from one of its two engines.  His second pass knocked down another bomber and shot a fourth out of formation.  On his third pass, Eddie’s son shot down the leader of the bombing formation, and hit a sixth plane with the last of his ammunition, knocking it out of formation, as well.  In less than two minutes, Eddie’s son claimed six bombers shot down (he was later credited with five), making him America’s first single-mission ace, saving the Lexington – again — and earning him the Medal of Honor.  In the process, Eddie’s son helped to repair his family name.  Eventually, Chicago even renamed Orchard Depot field to O’Hare International.  (Sadly, O’Hare would lose his life in 1943 while attempting to make a night intercept of another flight of Betties)

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to salute the memory of an American hero, Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare, the savior of the USS Lexington.

3 thoughts on “Al Capone, a Famous Airport and a Memorial Day Salute to a REAL American Hero

  1. Great story…btw, Thach was quite the hero himself, he developed some of the fighter tactics that gave our pilots a significant tactical advantage in dog fights with the Japanese and eventually the Germans as well. Many are still used by fighter pilots today. Just proves you should never under estimate the initiative of the American warrior. Lot of folks have paid dearly for making that error in judgement.

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