“Do you know how O’Hare airport got its name?” a friend asked. “Not really,” I answered. Well, there is a great story behind it, and an even greater life lesson.

The year was 1942, and the war with Japan was in its infancy, and the USA certainly wasn’t faring well at that particular time. Young Butch O’Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington, in the South Pacific. One day the entire squadron was sent on a mission. Not long into the flight, Butch looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.  Without fuel, Butch was forced to turn back to the carrier. As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.

Unable to warn his squadron to return to protect the carrier, or even warn the defenseless fleet, he made a death-defying decision. He must divert the attack from the fleet. Laying aside his own safety, he dove into the Japanese formation and began firing his 50-caliber wing mounted guns. As he continued to dive in and out of the formation, he downed five enemy planes until he exhausted all his ammunition. Undaunted, he continued his assault by diving his plane into a wing or tail of the remaining planes, making as many as possible unfit to fly. Finally, the Japanese took off in another direction to rid themselves of this fearless pilot.

Upon returning to his aircraft carrier, the film from his gun mounted camera told the story of this historical event. A year later, this World War II ace lost his life in aerial combat. He was the first Navy aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the city of Chicago named its airport after him, in tribute to the courage of this man. A statue and his medal of honor are on display at this historic airport, and his good name lives on.

But listen to the rest of the story. “Easy Eddie” was the famous lawyer for the notorious mobster and gangster, Al Capone. Eddie was a great lawyer, and through his legal maneuvering, he was able to keep Capone out of jail. He was showered with the best of everything, and lived in a fenced-in mansion with all the conveniences of those days.  

Easy Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob. That is, until his son was born.  Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. He wanted him to be able to pass on his good name, and not be remembered as the son of a mobster. With this in mind, Eddie made a very difficult decision. He went to the authorities and told the truth about “Big Al” Capone. And “Big Al” ended up behind prison bars.

Eddie wanted to clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. He knew he would pay a heavy price, and he was correct. Within a year, Easy Eddie was gunned down on a lonely Chicago street. But he gave his son the greatest gift he had to offer, and paid the greatest price he could pay. And as you’ve probably guessed, Easy Eddie was the father of Butch O’Hare. And Easy Eddie’s willingness to right a wrong did indeed allow the tarnished name of O’Hare to be remembered with honor.  

There are some great lessons in this true story. It is important to have a good name. Easy Eddie realized this too late in life to save his name, but not too late to right a wrong.  A second lesson is the value of a good name. A good name is not something someone can give you. It must be earned. Butch O’Hare earned his.  And the book of Proverbs in the King James version says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” The Amplified Bible says it this way: “A good name, earned by honorable behavior, godly wisdom, moral courage, and personal integrity, is more desirable than great riches.” These are lessons we should all remember.


George Lusby is the former Scott County judge-executive. “The Best of Crawfish and Minnows,” is available at the News-Graphic office.

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