Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Empire of the Son

I just finished a book by Steve Farrar entitled King Me: What Every Son Wants and Needs from His Father. In described fatherhood and sonhood, Farrar regales the reader with several real-life tales of noble and ignoble fathers - and the lessons their sons learned from the examples set by their fathers. It's a worthy read for fathers of sons and daughters, and I was pleasantly surprised to find some decent theological doctrine scattered throughout the book as well.

In one chapter, Farrar tells the story of Al Capone's lawyer, who struggled with his continually getting Capone off the hook as potentially being a bad example for his son. So the lawyer does the ethically right thing and turns Capone in to the Feds, and a couple years later pays the price for battling against the mobster by dying in a shroud of machine-gun fire. Did the son learn from this?

Farrar seemingly leaves that story behind and turns to recount the tale of Butch O'Hare, a WWII fighter pilot after whom Chicago's O'Hare airport is named. O'Hare's flying heroics may have saved the day for his squadron, and only as the author describes O'Hare's death in a shroud of machine gun fire over the Pacific Ocean does the reader realize that the two stories are about a father-son relationship. Sounds pretty neat. Good writing skills for sure. Is it true?

Here's what has to say:

Glurge: Notorious mob lawyer "Easy Eddie" O'Hare teaches his son Butch the value of honesty and integrity; the son goes on to become a decorated war hero and dies in the service of his country.

During the course of World War II, many people gained fame in one
way or another. One man was Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to an
aircraft carrier in the Pacific. One time his entire squadron was assigned to
fly a particular mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and
realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. Because of this,
he would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.
His flight leader told him to leave formation and return. As he was returning to
the mother ship, he could see a squadron of Japanese Zeroes heading toward the
fleet to attack. And with all the fighter planes gone, the fleet was almost
defenseless. His was the only opportunity to distract and divert them.
Single-handedly, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes and attacked
them. The American fighter planes were rigged with cameras, so that as they flew
and fought, pictures were taken so pilots could learn more about the terrain,
enemy maneuvers, etc. Butch dove at them and shot until all his ammunition was
gone, then he would dive and try to clip off a wing or tail or anything that
would make the enemy planes unfit to fly. He did anything he could to keep them
from reaching the American ships. Finally, the Japanese squadron took off in
another direction, and Butch O'Hare and his fighter, both badly shot up, limped
back to the carrier. He told his story, but not until the film from the camera
on his plane was developed, did they realize the extent he really went to, to
protect his fleet. He was recognized as a hero and given one of the nation's
highest military honors. And as you know, the O'Hare Airport was also named
after him. Prior to this time in Chicago, there was a man named Easy Eddie. He
was working for a man you've all heard about, Al Capone. Al Capone wasn't famous
for anything heroic, but he was notorious for the murders he'd committed and the
illegal things he'd done. Easy Eddie was Al Capone's lawyer, and he was very
good. In fact, because of his skill, he was able to keep Al Capone out of jail.
To show his appreciation, Al Capone paid him very well. He not only earned big
money, he would get extra things, like a residence that filled an entire Chicago
city block. The house was fenced, and he had live-in help and all of the
conveniences of the day. Easy Eddie had a son. He loved his son and gave him all
the best things while he was growing up: clothes, cars, and a good education.
And because he loved his son he tried to teach him right from wrong. But one
thing he couldn't give his son was a good name, and a good example. Easy Eddie
decided that this was much more important than all the riches he had given him.
So, he went to the authorities in order to rectify the wrong he had done. In
order to tell the truth, it meant he must testify against Al Capone, and he knew
that Al Capone would do his best to have him killed. But he wanted most of all
to try to be an example and to do the best he could to give back to his son, a
good name. So he testified. Within the year, he was shot and killed on a lonely
street in Chicago. This sounds like two unrelated stories. But Butch O'Hare was
Easy Eddie's son. Do you think Easy Eddie was able to pass the value of
integrity on to his son?

Some parts of this glurge about Edgar Joseph "Easy Eddie" O'Hare (also known as EJ) and his son, Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, are true, if exaggerated in the presentation above. The senior O'Hare provided legal services to Al Capone and later helped the government bring that notorious gangster to justice on tax fraud charges in 1931, then was murdered on 8 November 1939. (Exactly who killed Eddie O'Hare has always been a subject for debate, but the preponderance of the evidence indicates that he was killed on orders from Capone for having given information to the government that led to Capone's imprisonment.) Eddie's son Butch was a pilot who died in the Pacific during World War II when he failed to return to his carrier after a night mission on 26 November 1943, and Chicago's O'Hare airport was indeed named in his honor. (Dispute remains over exactly what happened to Butch, a Medal of Honor winner, but the preponderance of the evidence indicates his plane was downed by friendly fire rather than Japanese Zeroes.)

This glurge completely jumps the tracks, however, in trying to turn the story of Eddie and Butch O'Hare into a tale of redemption, a little morality play to demonstrates the importance of recognizing the errors of one's ways, of atoning for one's misdeeds, of trying to do right and prevent one's sins from being visited on future generations. Those are all valuable lessons, but they have precious little to do with this story.

Eddie O'Hare was not just a gangster's lawyer, he was also a partner in some of Al Capone's illegal activities. Despite having entered a profession in which he was expected, of all things, to uphold the law, the senior O'Hare broke the law to enrich himself through unethical and illegal schemes in partnership with the most notorious gangster in American history. What's more, he served Capone as an attorney and business manager, aiding the mobster in setting up illegal enterprises and helping to keep Capone and his cronies out of prison.

When "Easy Eddie" did eventually provide information that aided federal authorities in sending Capone to prison for income tax evasion, it was far less likely that he did it because he had an attack of conscience, wanted to right the wrongs he'd done, or sought to teach his son the value of integrity. More probably he turned state's evidence because he could see the handwriting on the wall: Capone was going to be nailed with or without his assistance, but by doing the government a favor Eddie could keep himself out of prison. (Some sources even suggest the connections Eddie made by turning government informant were what got his son Butch a berth at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.)

Perhaps Eddie O'Hare believed or knew he would be killed for what he had done; perhaps not. Either way, it was his son Butch who redeemed the family name through his wartime bravery and heroism, and the price he paid for that redemption was his life. None of that redemption was achieved through the actions of Easy Eddie.

Was the elder O'Hare "able to pass the value of integrity on to his son"? If his actions illustrated anything, it was just the opposite of integrity: if you're clever enough and sufficiently lacking in moral values you can live a life of wealth and privilege by victimizing others, and if your gravy train should ever derail you can adopt an "every man for himself" attitude and save your own skin by ratting on your associates.

Butch O'Hare was suitably honored when the Chicago airport known as Orchard Depot was renamed O'Hare International in 1949. It's unfortunate that he and the airport have to share the O'Hare name with his unscrupulous father.

A poem was found by police in Easy Eddie's pocket (, and it read like this:
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.

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