Al Capone’s Connection To Chicago O’Hare Airport

A recent share in my social feed reminded me of this incredible story that links Chicago O’Hare and Al Capone. It’s really two stories, but stay with me until the end.

Al Capone’s lawyer was known as ‘Easy Eddie’. Eddie kept his client out of jail for a long time, and was richly rewarded with a mansion that sat on an entire city block. He was everything that people despise about lawyers, though, wrangling the system without regard to morality as he pursued the interests of his client.

“Eddie gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him, but he did have one soft spot – a son whom he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had nice clothes, cars and a good education. Price was no object.

“And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach his son right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Easy Eddie turned state’s evidence against Al Capone. He’s said to have done this to “clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity.” Although he may have been in some legal jeopardy himself and benefited from the deal.

He testified against Capone in 1932, and seven years later – ‘revenge is best served cold’ – was gunned down by the mob. At the time he had on him “a gun, a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion and a poem clipped from a magazine.”

The poem read: ‘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.’

The second story is about Lieutenant Butch O’Hare, a fighter pilot in the South Pacific during World War II. On one fateful day in February 1942 his squadron was sent off, but his fuel tank was low – the crew had failed to top it off – and he was ordered to return to the Lexington. Enroute back he encountered a Japanese fighter squadron that could have overtaken the ship and his comrades. On his own, he engaged.

He fired at the planes until all his ammunition was spent, then dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail. Finally, the Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. He had destroyed five enemy aircraft and, for that, became the Navy’s first ace of World War II and the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

Butch O’Hare was killed a year later during aerial combat. Chicago O’Hare airport is named in his honor.

So what is Al Capone’s connection to Chicago’s O’Hare airport? Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son. Orchard Field (hence, ORD) was renamed for O’Hare on September 19, 1949.


Credit: Raysonho via Wikimedia Commons

You can see a Grumman F4F-3 like the one Butch O’Hare flew in on his Medal of Honor flight in the area connecting terminals 1 and 2 airside.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Neat story. I grew up two miles from the orchard. The older brothers of my neighbor friends would go cart race. I was 25 cents to go around the track 10 times. Midway was the only airport. 5 years later a runway was in the path over our house. It went over the Milwaukee Road roundhouse in Bensenville where my dad was a foreman on the railroad. Great post!

  2. I enjoyed the story, great trivia I will remember always and think about whenever I go through O’Hare airport.

  3. Born and raised in and around Chicago, and an avid reader of history, and I was unaware of this fact. Fun read. Thanks.

  4. Thank you Gary for the tidbit of history. I never realized the connection.

  5. O’Hare died in February, 1943, when our navy was just developing night fighter tactics.

    His carrier, “Lexington,” was sunk in May, 1942, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, to save Australia from invasion by Imperial Japan.

  6. It also might be considered. To gain entrance to one of the 2 (at the time) service academies, you needed a letter of recommendation from a congressman. Obviously, the son of a known Capone associate wasn’t going to be so honored… UNLESS a deal was made! There long been rumor that the son’s appointment to the US Navel Academy was a ‘quid pro quo’ for Fast Eddie’s help in nailing Capone.

  7. @GUWonder. Not exactly a Kamikaze, although I know what you are getting at. Rather, a brave man taking a calculated risk in a game of “chicken” with the Japanese pilots (who also at this earlier point in the war were not into kamikaze tactics either unless their plane was severely damaged). And it worked.

  8. Lots of interesting historical tidbits here. Who did his letter of recommendation, if it was even required at that point?

    A well-connected mobster getting a politician’s letter of recommendation or other favor for a favored son? There’s a history of nexus between gangs/mafias and politicians in this country and worldwide, and it continues in parts even to this day.

    US federal legislators do these letters of recommendation for the military academies even for people who aren’t well-connected but have a record of being an upright performer. Maybe the recommendation letter thing was a much different thing back before WW2, but one thing is for sure that there has been a long history of the children of the privileged getting positions as pilots in the military before, during and after World War 2 while those of other backgrounds were less likely to have the chance.

  9. Nice story. I knew the story of Butch O’Hare but I did not know his father was murdered or that his father was Al Capone’s lawyer.

    The plane displayed was a training plane that crashed in Lake Michigan. During World War II, there were 2 (I believe) aircraft carriers in Lake Michigan that were used for training. No risk of German sinking

  10. Great story, Gary. Thanks. My father was an early naval aviator who began flying for the Navy in the early 1920’s. By the time WWII came along, my father was too old for combat, so he was a Navy flight instructor in Pensacola FL, San Juan Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay Cuba. In that role, he taught Butch O’Hare to fly — we have the original flight logs to prove it. But I never knew the Capone connection. Thanks again.

  11. Back in 1996 on behalf of the other employees at the CR Smith Museum I took it upon my self to look into the origin of 3 letter city codes. A lot of my findings had no actual facts and they came from many sources. ORD was one of them, Mind you I knew a little about it and I tried many sources and no one ever answered. I finally got some one at ORD and I told them what I was doing. I told her that we really didn’t know ((I really knew a little) but I told her we were telling the visitors that it was named after Scarlet O’Hara. Dead silence and she really said you were not really doing that are you and I told her we didn’t know what to tell them. We really didn’t say that but I got her attention. Within 2 hours I got an 11 page fax on the history of ORD. In part it said it was built on the grounds of a golf course (maybe 2 but I dont remember) and the club house was used by United to house crews. As to Butch O’Hare I was told that on his mission his fellow’s guns malfunctions and he had to return to base which left Butch alone. Some how my findings were released to local news papers. I said he was a native of Chicago which I knew was wrong as he was born in St Louis. I got 2 nasty letters from St Louis but I didn’t want to go into many details as I knew Chicago claimed him as there own. I did send a letter to both saying I knew and they were right. Pres Roosevelt was quoted as saying “O’Hare’s mission that saved the Lexington from enemy bombers was one of the most daring ,IF not THE most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation. O’Hare was awarded the Congressional Medal of honor in 1942

  12. I grew up in Schiller Park which is adjacent to O hare and rode my bike around the taxi ways till the yellow truck chased us off. We would ride the bikes over to the apple orchards which were adjacent to the airport. I was told that as the pilots were landing there, they would call out that they were over the “orchard” and that is where the name came from. Always sounded like a good reason for the name.

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