Al Capone and O'Hare Airport, World War II week by week

Posted by David Middlecamp on December 17, 2013 

The Dec. 11, 1943 Telegram-Tribune documents the death of two sailors off of Avila Beach and of Medal of Honor recipient Butch O'Hare. The famed airport in Chicago would be named for him.

TELEGRAM-TRIBUNE

The second busiest airport in the United States is O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Prohibition gangster Al Capone would hardly recognize the place.

Not fair to connect the two?

The airport is named for Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. "Butch" O'Hare.

Butch was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who died 70 years ago returning from a night mission.

Butch O'Hare had earned the Congressional Medal of Honor about 10 weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, in February 1942, while protecting his aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Lexington, and crew of 1,700 in the South Pacific.

Butch O'Hare's exploit achieved national fame in a time when America was reeling and needed heroes.

O'Hare piloted the only fighter plane with working machine guns in the right place to defend against a second wave of bombers.

Of nine incoming Japanese bombers he shot down five and damaged a sixth in less than four minutes. He intercepted them minutes before the bombs would have been dropped. He was the first U.S. Navy fighter pilot to become an ace.

He would return to the United States for his award and could have asked for lighter duty, or taken fewer risks after his promotion, but he returned to the front lines.

The Dec. 11, 1943, story said the carrier-based Navy fighter pilot had been downed by a Japanese fighter plane that had sneaked into the formation as they returned from a night torpedo attack.

Some contemporary accounts say that night-time friendly anti-aircraft fire may have brought down the plane.

When news of his death, delayed by censors, reached the United States, it was front-page news in the Telegram-Tribune as well as other papers across the U.S.

The article correctly lists the 29-year-old's birthplace as St. Louis, Mo.

However, some sources make a 260-mile error and incorrectly state O'Hare was from Chicago.

Why?

Perhaps because his lawyer father, Edward Joseph "EJ" O'Hare, had a high-profile job in Chicago for a time.

EJ represented a client who had invented a mechanical rabbit that led greyhounds sprinting around the dog track. When the inventor died, his widow sold EJ the patent.

A dog track investor in the Prohibition era was involved in a cash-rich business, very attractive to other entrepreneurs who had less above-board cash-rich businesses like street gambling, liquor distribution and prostitution.

It would be good insurance to affiliate with a strong partner. The strongest in Chicago was a fedora-wearing, cigar-smoking man named Alphonse Capone.

Capone and O'Hare would have a fruitful business partnership for a time.

Apparently EJ was successful and loved flying. EJ introduced his son, Butch, to the air via early commercial flights. The father's contacts helped Butch land an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.

The relationship between EJ and Al would sour: The elder O'Hare would provide records to the Internal Revenue Service that helped convict Capone of tax evasion. Apparently Capone had never filed an income-tax return, and his business interests extended beyond "second-hand furniture."

EJ was murdered in 1939. A shotgun blast from a passing car killed him on the way home from the dog track.

After the war Orchard Place/Douglas Field was renamed Chicago O'Hare in 1949.

• • •

In other news of the day, two Navy men drowned near the lighthouse at Port San Luis when their shore patrol boat capsized in heavy sea. The bodies of Gordon Blazeck and Joseph Gillich were recovered in the early hours of the morning; their boat went down at 8:30 the night before.

The annual dinner of the California Almond Grower Exchange in Paso Robles was scheduled for the Paso Robles Inn. Another article outlined farm labor was still in short supply.

On the way home from the Tehran conference, President Roosevelt stopped in the ancient city of Carthage to confer with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on grand Mediterranean strategy.

A committee of five California state senators petitioned President Roosevelt to keep Japanese civilians at internment camps. "This committee fears and knows that the relocation in this state of Japanese during the war will inevitably lead to violence and bloodshed, thus creating an excuse for mistreatment of American civilian and military prisoners in Japan, many of whom are citizens of this state."

The Office of Censorship moved to relax restrictions. Publishers and broadcasters were told that they had the right to appeal what they thought were unreasonable requests. Military censorship was still in effect in foreign battle theaters.

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