O’Hare Airport, the main airport for the city of Chicago, is once again the world’s busiest airport. Most people who have traveled through, to, or from O’Hare have noticed that airport code on their ticket or luggage tag: ORD. It is one of the very few airport codes in the world where the IATA Code (International Air Transport Association) has nothing to do with either the name of the city or the airport.
Chicago is the city where I was born. Sometimes, when I’m feeling ornery or when I feel like I have nothing to do with the human race, I’ll say I was “hatched” there, in America’s so-called “Second City.” But “hatch” is a great disservice to my mother, who labored tremendously that Sunday before Labor Day, in the maternity ward of the now defunct Saint Anne’s Hospital. So I’ve made a note to myself to use it less frequently.
101 years ago, as the dusk fell on the Edwardian/Pre-war Era, on the 13th of March, Edward “Butch” was born in Saint Louis, Missouri to a mixed marriage. His mother was a German southsider. His father, also Edward (hence the nickname “Butch” for the lad) was an Irish northsider.
As a youth, Butch was raised mostly in the Soulard neighborhood, home to arguably America’s longest continually operated farmers’ market — since 1779. Decades before it was even part of the United States. It was also home to one of America’s largest breweries.
Butch’s father was an attorney who acquired the nickname “Fast Eddy.” Butch’s parents divorced in 1927 — perhaps the nickname Fast had something to do with it — and Fast Eddy moved to Chicago to go to work for Al Capone and his mafia gang. Fast Eddy helped run Capone’s racing operations. And, as a sharp attorney, he helped keep Capone, his cronies and thugs out of prison.
Meanwhile, Butch and the family moved farther south in town, to the Holly Hills neighborhood, near the west end of beautiful 180-acre Carondelet Park.
In those days, Capone ran Chicago. So Fast Eddy became rather wealthy, and he made it a point to share that wealth with his family back in Saint Louis. Their home even had an in-ground swimming pool. Butch became rather popular — with the pool and nearby park his home was quite the hang out place — and he grew lazy.
Legend has it that Butch’s dad, Fast Eddy, wanted to leave something more for his son than money. He wanted to leave him a good clean family name. And a chance to make a name on his own. And he didn’t want him to be lazy.
So, in 1932 Fast Eddy decided to turn himself in and turn state’s evidence against Capone; critical evidence that would ultimately help convict Capone. Eddy knew that he was risking his life in doing this, so, the stories go, he bartered something in return: an appointment for his son to a US Military Academy.
Fast Eddy had already helped straighten young Butch up by enrolling him at Western Military Academy, just up and across the river at Alton, Illinois. In 1933, Butch graduated from Western and received his father’s negotiated reward: an appointment to the US Naval Academy, from where he graduated in 1937.
Fast Eddy — Capone’s erstwhile attorney Edward O’Hare — was ultimately killed a few years later; shot and murdered in cold blood as he drove down a prominent Chicago street one night. Of course, the murder remains unsolved to this day.
His son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare ended up flying F-4 Wildcats off aircraft carriers.
Just two and half months after The Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor, on Feb 20, 1942, — with the United States and its Navy still reeling from the devastation of that horrible December Sunday morning — Butch and all of the F4’s on the USS Lexington took off on a sortie. Not long after assembling and moving out, it became evident that Butch’s F4 fuel tanks had not been properly filled. He had to turn back.
As he returned to the Lexington he spotted a squadron of nine Japanese bombers. They were heading toward the Lexington and its fleet. Butch was the only flyer who was in any position to intercept them.
With the F4’s four powerful .50-caibre Browning guns, Butch shot down five very surprised Japanese bombers before running out of ammo. (That version of the F4 only had 37-seconds of fire power.) With some fuel remaining, he tried to taunt and tip the remaining bombers with his wingtips. Evidently he damaged a sixth bomber before the remaining bombers called off the attack.
Film footage from his flight verified his account. With those five kills Butch O’Hare became the first Navy Ace of World War II. For his quick thinking, bravery and for saving the otherwise unguarded Lexington, O’Hare earned the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor.
A year and half later, on November 26, 1943, Butch O’Hare was operating in the first-ever night time attack from an aircraft carrier. He was shot down; his body was never recovered.
St. Louis offered to name a street, bridge, or municipal building in his honor, but Butch’s mother objected, insisting that all those who perished were heroes. And there, it seems, Saint Louis’ effort to honor its native son ended.
In 1942, the US War Production Board bought 1,800 acres of undeveloped Cook County prairie near the farming community called Orchard Place, a few miles northwest of Chicago. This nearly 3-square mile tract of flat land became the site of a huge Douglas Aircraft Company manufacturing facility to build C-54 transports. Of course an airfield was required. It was called Orchard Depot. Some history refers to it as Orchard Place/Douglas.
The location was also the site of the US Army Air Force’s 803 Special Depot that stored rare and experimental planes, including captured enemy aircraft. These were all later transferred to the National Air Museum, and eventually formed the core of the original Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s collection.
At the end of the war, the land was turned over to the city of Chicago, with plans for it to eventually become Chicago’s main airport — even though Chicago’s Midway was, at that time, still one of the world’s busiest airports.
In 1949, due largely to a campaign led by the Chicago Tribune — and perhaps to poke a teasing blow at Saint Louis — the City of Chicago changed the name of the still small Orchard Depot Airport to “O’Hare Field, Chicago International Airport.” Since the 1960s it has been at or near the list of world’s busiest airports.
So there you have it. The IATA code for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that we see on our tickets and luggage tags is “ORD”, a carryover from its days as Orchard Depot Airport.
And O’Hare Airport — which has grown to over 7,000 acres — is named for a Medal of Honor recipient, a war hero, and son of a mafia criminal.
I hope you have a heroic year.
Joe Girard (c) 2015