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Edward H O'Hare

American Hero: Chicago's O'Hare?

Volume 2 Issue 2 Fall/Winter 2015-16
By Madison Monroe, Editor

Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare grew up rather wealthy. Not too many people in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930’s lived in a house with a swimming pool and a skating rink, but Butch did. He was the son of EJ “Easy Eddie” O’Hare, the man who held the patent for the mechanical rabbit used in dog races.

Eddie was in up to his neck with the mob. He discovered the most money was made on the dog tracks of Chicago, so he took his rabbit there and fell in with Al Capone. He and Capone opened additional dog tracks in Boston and Miami. The races were easy to fix - overfeed seven of the eight dogs running. The profits came pouring in.

In order to manage dog tracks in all three cities, Eddie began to pilot his own plane. On the few occasions that Butch was with him, Eddie let him take the aircraft’s controls. That was the beginning of Butch’s love of flying.

As with all thugs, the more money that came in, the more volatile the relationships became. Al Capone and Eddie began repeatedly arguing about the dog tracks, money, power and distribution of funds. Emotions were strained and encounters were tense. Capone and O’Hare were set to collide. Finally, on February 14, 1929, Capone’s men carried out what would be known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre when they executed rival gang members in a Chicago whiskey warehouse.

Afraid for his family’s safety, Eddie fled back home to St. Louis to ask his friend, a reporter for the paper, to arrange a meeting with IRS agent Frank Wilson. The three had lunch the next day to discuss Eddie’s options. After lunch, Eddie turned over key financial records to Wilson. These records would be the ones that would convict Capone of income tax evasion and land him in Alcatraz from August 1933 until January 1939.

By 1939, Butch had been appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy by a congressman who was one of Eddie’s political friends. On November 8, 1939, Butch was in Pensacola, Florida performing training flights. When he landed, he was informed that his father had been gunned down in a drive-by shooting while leaving the dog track. Al Capone had been out of prison only nine months. Butch knew that his father had paid the ultimate price to keep him away from the mob.

Determination was a part of Butch’s DNA. That quality would serve his romantic intentions during the summer of 1941, when he met Rita Wooster on a trip to visit his mother in St. Louis. When he told Rita he loved her, she said she did not love him, and that he was too old for her. He said that did not matter. She told him she was Catholic and would only marry within her faith. He said he would convert. Whatever her rebuttal, Butch had an answer. He married her within six weeks, having overcome all her objections.

On December 8, 1941, he left for Pearl Harbor. Shortly after arriving there, the Japanese attacked an island off the coast of Australia. USS Lexington received their orders: leave Pearl Harbor, cross the equator and attack the Japanese. Butch O’Hare and his crew immediately headed south. As they neared the island, the Japanese occupying commander sent 9 of his 18 Mitsubishi bombers to attack USS Lexington. All nine were shot down. Determined to take down the enemy, Butch launched from the Lexington and climbed to combat altitude. Eight final bombers – the second wave – were on the way. As they approached the ship, Butch dove into their V formation, taking out five of the Japanese planes that were threatening his crew. The battle was over in less than four minutes.

Butch’s bravery made him the first naval recipient of the Medal of Honor, bestowed on him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 21, 1942. Over 60,000 attended a parade in his honor, and he became one of the shining heroes during the dark days of World War II. On November 19, 1943, during a nighttime battle, Butch’s ‘Hellcat’ was shot down. After an extensive search, he was declared lost at sea.

In the fall of 1949, O’Hare Field was dedicated to Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare. Perhaps the city was still grateful to his father for ridding them of Al Capone. Perhaps Chicago wanted to honor an aviation war hero. In any case, it’s interesting that Chicago’s International Airport is named for a man that never lived there. brave flag

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