Capone Mob Murder, World War II Hero Figure In Naming of O'Hare Airport.
Their tickets and their luggage tags read ORD. They come by the thousands, hour after hour, day after day, flying into the concrete and steel and glass monster that's never quite finished, that's always under construction, always expanding, always overflowing.
Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, even in the midst of a major recession, remains The World's Busiest, as O'Hare boosters never tire of telling us.
And it is pretty busy. Ask the people who get lost there. Ask the homeowners in Des Plaines or Bensenville who live beneath the glide paths. Ask the cabbies who scratch out a living hauling warm bodies and their luggage to and from.
Back in the days when Super Mobster Alphonse Capone was losing control of his sprawling criminal empire and was preparing for his trip to Alcatraz on an income tax evasion conviction, a much smaller version of the airport, then known as Orchard Depot, was just beginning to spread its wings. In those days, most travelers took the train, and international travelers went by ship. And anyway, Chicago's big airport was Municipal, out on the South Side - now known as Midway.
Then as now, you had to really love flying to want to fly into or out of ORD.
In 1949, six years after he went down near Tarawa Island in the South Pacific, Orchard Depot was renamed O'Hare International Airport, in memory of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward Henry (Butch) O'Hare.
Butch O'Hare, born in St. Louis and raised on Chicago's South Side, was the affable, charming, pleasant-faced son of Edward J. O'Hare, wheeler-dealer millionaire lawyer, federal informant and partner-in-crime of Scarface Al Capone.
In a very real sense, Scarface Al, through his close involvement in the life and sudden death of the senior O'Hare, was Butch's Godfather. At the time the airport was named for the younger O'Hare, the Capone connection was even then beginning to be lost and forgotten - preserved only in the yellowing newspaper clips that almost no one ever read anymore.
The day after Pearl HarborDecember 7, 1941, or 50 years ago this monththe then-28- year-old Lt. O'Hare was pulled from the arms of his beautiful young bride and their infant daughter, uprooted from their lodgings at the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego, California, and sent west to the shooting war in the Pacific.
Butch O'Hare had graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, four years earlier in the summer of 1937. He had spent that first tour of duty honing his skills as a Navy fighter pilot training out of bases in both Florida and California. Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, career Naval officers like Lt. O'Hare were part of a lonely crowd, generally shunned by a pacifist population that solidly re-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt on his pledge to keep the country out of war.
But after Pearl Harbor, the Butch O'Hares of the country were suddenly in great demand. About ten weeks after the "day of infamy," as Roosevelt called the Pearl Harbor attack, Lt. O'Hare was flying his single-engine Grumman F4F fighter in the area of the Gilbert Islands.
O'Hare, accompanied by a wingman in another Grumman Hellcat, spotted nine Japanese twin-engine bombers zeroing in on O'Hare's floating home base, the aircraft carrier Lexington. At that crucial moment, only O'Hare and his wingmate were aloft. The rest of the Lexington's fighters were aboard the carrier refueling and reloading, with the enemy bombers only about four minutes from their target.
Then, O'Hare and his buddy discovered that the .50 caliber machine guns in the second Grumman had jammed, leaving only Lt. Butch O'Hare between the airborne assassins and the 2,000 or so Navy men on the Lexington.
But this was a guy who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. This was a guy whose father had friends in the Mafia. This was a guy who knew everything there was to know about firearms - and how to use them.
One at a time, Butch O'Hare flew at the heavily armed incoming killers, and one at a time, he began killing them off. In just seconds, the Japanese squadron was in disarray, with Butch sweeping up from below to within 20 or 30 yards of a bomber, then stitching its fuel tanks with machine-gun fire, causing it to explode in flames, then peeling off to attack the next enemy plane from above, opening fire at a range close enough to see terror in the eyes of a Japanese pilot as he gets shot to death.
All told, O'Hare destroyed five of the nine invaders, with three more being killed by Lexington pilots who were able to take off after O'Hare first engaged the bombers. The last Japanese plane, badly damaged in the shootout with O'Hare, was able to get out of the immediate area, but is believed to have crashed at sea some distance away.
For his inspiring exploits on that fatal day in February 1942, Lt. Edward H. (Butch) O'Hare was designated the U.S. Navy's first "Ace" of World War II. He was immediately promoted two grades from Lieutenant Junior Grade to Lieutenant Commander.
The airborne shootout took place within sight of hundreds of Lexington crew members. O'Hare was being fired on with machine guns and cannons from all angles, but he "just kept moving," one eyewitness report says.
"O'Hare didn't give the Japs a chance," his commander later said of the dogfight. "He just outnumbered them."
President Roosevelt called Lt. O'Hare's outstanding performance, "One of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation." Years later, when Chicago's Orchard Depot airport was renamed for Butch O'Hare, President Roosevelt's glowing tribute was engraved on a plaque and included in an exhibit that stood for years in the International Terminal.
Butch O'Hare's singular exploits did not stop with the Lexington defense. Later in 1942 and in 1943, he acquitted himself brilliantly in developing new techniques for intercepting and destroying enemy aircraft at night. He subsequently earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for these efforts.
But on November 26, 1943, while on a night interception near Tarawa, Butch O'Hare was shot down and lost at sea.
His chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Donald Kelly of Chicago said of him:
"Butch O'Hare was very enthusiastic about his wife and baby girl (who was not yet two years old when he died). He was a real hero. He was tops with both enlisted men and officers."
The Butch O'Hare story was inspiring enough to prompt some 200,000 Chicagoans to turn out for the 1949 renaming of the airport, including then-Chicago Mayor Martin H. Kenelly and then-Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. There were bands and speeches and overhead, a lone, smoke-equipped aircraft spelled out the name "O'Hare" in block letters emblazoned against a clear blue sky.
But it could not have happened that way had it not been for the corrupt, tawdry and openly criminal life and death of Butch O'Hare's father.
Edward J. O'Hare, originally of St. Louis, was a young lawyer on the make when he ran into a local inventor and dog lover named Oliver P. Smith. In 1909, Smith had developed a mechanical rabbit for use in dog racing. For the next decade, Smith refined his invention and finally, after hooking up with O'Hare, got the device patented.
Smith and O'Hare showed the running-rabbit system around the country, just as the sport of dog racing was capturing the public's imagination. The pair's early successes came in Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois. Without exception, the people who were opening dog tracks in those days were Mob guys who willingly paid Smith and O'Hare a percentage of the gate for their use of the rabbit.
The inventor died in 1927 and O'Hare, who was, after all, a lawyer, aced Smith's widow out of the picture and gained complete control of the rights to the rabbit for himself. At about that same time, O'Hare shed his wife and took his three children, Butch and his sisters Patricia and Marilyn, with him to Chicago.
Scarface Al Capone took an immediate liking to Eddie O'Hare and brought him into the newly-created Hawthorne Kennel Club as a major partner. Dog racing, then as now, was illegal in Illinois. Nevertheless, Capone, O'Hare and several top Mob characters operated the Hawthorne plant (located in Cicero) while they kept the legality vs. illegality question tied up in court for several years.
Also, the dog-loving team of Al and Eddie took their show on the road, gaining control of a Boston-area track and two plants in Florida. The scam aspect of dog racingwhich is what obviously appealed to Capone, if not also to O'Harewas as easy to carry off as throwing a dog a bone.
The races were usually made up of eight greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit around a half-mile track. The dogs were trained to break from a starting gate which was actually a line of eight individual kennels, or boxes, with wire-mesh fronts that snapped out of the way the instant the rabbit started to run. Reaching speeds of 40 miles an hour or so, the dogs would sprint after the mechanical rabbit, never catching it, with the first greyhound across the finish line being the winner, the second grabbing the place payoff and the third animal coming in to show.
Betting was done according to the pari-mutual system, which is the same plan used at horse and dog tracks around the country today. But what turned the sport into the money- generating scam that it was for Capone and O'Hare were the twin facts that (1) dog racing was unregulated at the time and (2) if you give each of seven dogs a pound of hamburger a few minutes before a race, it's a cinch that the eighth, unfed dog will win.
It should take no stretch of the imagination to figure out which dogs Scarface and Eddie and their criminal associates were betting on in those days.
Eventually, dog racing in Illinois was determined to be unequivocally illegal and the Capone- O'Hare combine had to shut down the Hawthorne Kennel Club operation, although they continued to run dogs in the Boston, Miami and Tampa areas.
But, almost overnight, they turned the shuttered Hawthorne Kennel Club into Sportsman's Park Race Track and began to run thoroughbred horses where once greyhounds had chased Oliver Smith's running rabbit. Never mind the fact that Sportsman's was right next door to Hawthorne Race Course which, for 40 years at that time, had also been running thoroughbreds.
If one horse-racing facility was good for Cicero, Capone and O'Hare evidently figured, two would be twice as good.
Edward J. O'Hare was named president of the new Sportsman's Park racing plant.
In addition to running Sportsman's, O'Hare performed a variety of legal services for Scarface Al and various members of the Capone Mob. He was always right around the edges of the ever-present political fix. He looked after the murder, gambling and prostitution busts that assorted Capone guys were always getting themselves into. He became deeply involved in setting up elaborate real estate and stock transactions for Capone, himself and other insiders of the gang.
Along the way, Eddie O'Hare developed both a friendship and a real estate partnership with a Chicago Rackets Court Judge named Eugene J. Holland. Just as an indicator of the kind of guys O'Hare ran with, in one 15-month period, Judge Holland dismissed gambling charges against 12,624 defendants, while finding only 28 guilty.
But where Edward J. O'Hare may have been the personification of the corrupt lawyer, he was a doting father whose love for his offspring knew no bounds. His daughters were raised as if they were some kind of Irish-American Princesses. And for his son, Butch, there was nothing that he would not and could not do.
Educationally, it was only the best schools of the day for Butch. Recreationally, the senior O'Hare always found time to spend time with his son, whether it was at a sporting event or a poetry reading or a theatrical production or just shooting cans off the back fence with a six- shot .38.
In conversation, the senior O'Hare's favorite phrase seemed to be, "My son, Butch "
When Butch was about to graduate from high school, he told his father of his burning ambition to go to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. If money had been the only problem, Eddie would have dipped into his pocket and sent the boy off to Maryland without a second thought. But, then as now, entry into Annapolis required the blessing of a would-be midshipman's local representative in Congress.
At the time, Al Capone was hot and getting hotter. It was known that the Feds were closing in on him with a unique new form of prosecution based on violations of the Federal income tax statutes. It was also widely known that Capone and Butch O'Hare's dad were deeply involved in a variety of joint enterprises, some criminal and some only quasi-so. What O'Hare knew about Capone's day-to-day criminal activities was the stuff that the typical Federal prosecutor's dreams are made of.
To make that dream a reality, all that was needed was the timely intervention of a St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter who was in the odd position of being both a personal friend of Eddie O'Hare and the best buddy of one of the key people on the prosecution team. The reporter, John Rogers by name, knew that O'Hare wanted very badly to get his young son into Annapolis.
Rogers first went to his pal on the Capone prosecution team, who took the pitch up the line to the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, who then went to Congress with the plan, which then found its way over to Annapolis, with the word coming back down to Eddie that Butch was in - if only the senior O'Hare would tell everything the Feds wanted to know about Scarface Al Capone.
He did. The Feds made excellent use of the information. Capone went down for 11 years, with the first two years being served behind the bars of the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta, and the rest spent locked up on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.
In 1937, the year that Butch O'Hare graduated from Annapolis, his father received a piece of mail from an ex-con who had been in Alcatraz with Capone. In simple, declarative sentences, the note read: "Capone is mad. He is enraged. He will kill you."
The senior O'Hare, still President of Sportsman's Park Race Track and a millionaire lawyer with enough horse-racing interests, dog-racing deals, real-estate interests and stock transactions to keep an army of accountants on overtime, began to seem a little nervous, a little distracted, his friends said.
However, Ursula Sue Granata, sister of a Mob-tied State Representative and Eddie O'Hare's seven-year fiancee, denied that he was showing signs of any kind of strain or nervousness. "He entertained ten or twelve friends at a dinner party in the Illinois Athletic Club," she said. "Contrary to some things I have read, I didn't see the least indication that he was nervous," Miss Granata declared.
Eddie and Sue, who were long an item in the gossip columns, never seemed able to get their relationship formalized because his earlier divorce from Butch's mother kept all the Catholic priests in the area from officiating. However, they were hopeful that by about the spring of 1940, their request for a dispensation from the Vatican would come through and they would then be able to marry.
But before that happy day would come, Alphonse Capone, regarded by many as the father of organized crime in America, was due to be released from Alcatraz.
On November 8, 1939, or about 27 months before Lt. Butch O'Hare would save the U.S.S. Lexington, Edward J. O'Hare was seen cleaning and loading a Spanish-made .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his office at Sportsman's Park. Although he was known to own several firearms, he was never known to carry a gun.
He left his office that afternoon, got into his black 1939 Lincoln coupe and drove away from the track, heading first north on Cicero and then northeast on Ogden, toward Downtown Chicago. As Eddie O'Hare approached the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a car roared up beside him and two shotgun-wielding murderers opened fire with repeated blasts of big- game slugs. The slugs tore through the glass and metal of the Lincoln's door, killing Eddie instantly.
As the Lincoln crashed into a post at the side of the roadway, the killers continued east on Ogden, where they soon became lost in other traffic. As might be expected, they were never found.
In addition to the gun that Eddie O'Hare never had a chance to use, police removed from his pockets 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.