SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There's a man whose name touches millions of lives, but many of us don't know his story. This may be a good weekend to hear about him. Butch was the son of a lawyer who worked for Al Capone, but who wound up testifying against the gangster in a 1931 tax evasion trial that sent Capone to prison.
Butch was in military school and wanted appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was fascinated by flying. He was learning how to take off and land in tricky ocean winds when he got word that his father had been shot to death just a few days before Al Capone was released from prison in 1939. Like a lot of young men in uniform, Butch took on grave responsibilities in the days following Pearl Harbor. He became leader of a flight squadron.
On February 20, 1942, Butch's fighter was alone on the air when a wave of nine Japanese bombers swooped down on the USS Lexington. As the Medal of Honor citation put it, without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire. One of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation.
President Roosevelt awarded Butch the Medal of Honor personally. Butch then spent more than a year as what amounted to a poster-boy for the war effort, making appearances to help inspire enlistments and sell war bonds by talking about the mission on which he'd risked his life. But Butch also knew that men he flew with still risked their's, so he asked to go back to war.
On the night of November 26, 1943, Butch led one of the first nighttime fighter missions ever launched from an aircraft carrier. A Japanese bomber fired at him from behind. His plane hit the ocean in the darkness, and to this day, the aircraft of Lieutenant Commander Edward Butch O'Hare has not been found.
Many American airports are named after politicians - LaGuardia, Kennedy, Reagan, Hartsfield, Jackson - occasionally named after celebrities, like John Wayne or Louis Armstrong. One and a half million passengers are expected to move through O'Hare International Airport this is Memorial Day weekend, and some might want to hold a thought for the man for whom it's named. He was the 29-year-old flier with a wife, a daughter and his whole life ahead of him who, in the words of the citation on the Navy Cross, gallantly gave his life for his country.
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