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June 17, 2017

This year, two important days fall on the same calendar date. On Sunday June 18, 2017, Clare and I will celebrate our fifty-first wedding anniversary. Sunday is also Father’s Day. Maybe this particular convergence of days has happened before. I just don’t recall ever celebrating these two days together.

For me this was a poignant reminder of the connection between two important roles. Being a husband and being a father are closely connected in more ways than the most obvious one. Clare and I love each other. Our love has deepened over these fifty-one years. Our five children and thirteen grandchildren are the happy blessings of our long-term marriage.

When I met Clare I was smitten. It was love at first sight. We were attracted to each other initially and soon became best friends. That friendship has grown as our respect, devotion, and affection for each other has matured. The home we have created, the garden we have cultivated, and the memories we have made all increase the strength of our bond.

The role of husband and father blend in such a way that now our grandchildren notice.

Recently, one of them asked me, “Papa Kirk, is Mama Clare your girlfriend?”

“Yes, “I said. She has been my girlfriend for a long time. She is my very best friend.”

“That’s a good thing because you are so old you probably couldn’t get a girlfriend now.”

“I am old,” I replied. “I have the one girlfriend that is special to me.”

I could almost see the wheels turning inside that child’s head. After all these years, what Clare and I have been able to do, only by the grace of the good Lord, is provide an example of strength and stability, love and commitment to those who follow. We are grateful every day for that gift.

This combination of roles is illustrated in two rather improbable stories.  I don’t recall where I first heard these stories, but I do know that Paul Harvey told both of them. I have received them several times by e-mail; always told together.

The first story tells of a young Chicago attorney named Edward who became connected with the crime boss Al Capone in 1927.  The two were first involved in the illegal sport of dog racing.  The lawyer became one of Capone’s favorite colleagues and represented members of the Capone mob for crimes including murder, gambling, and prostitution. Known within the mob as Easy Eddie, Edward’s shrewd legal mind enabled him to rig trials, bribe juries, and pay off law enforcement officers. This skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone always handsomely rewarded Easy Eddie.

Apart from his life of crime, Easy Eddie doted on his family. He loved his wife. His three children – a son and two daughters – were his delight.  At some point, Easy Eddie decided that he owed his children more than just the material and financial advantages that came from his life of crime.  He wanted to provide for them a good education. Despite his own involvement with organized crime, Eddie and his wife tried to teach his children right from wrong. He realized that he could not provide them with a good example and a name of which they could be proud.

Wanting to give his children an example of integrity, Edward made a difficult decision.  In an attempt to rectify the wrongs he had done, he became a witness for the prosecution and testified against Al Capone and other members of the mob.  As a result, Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of income tax evasion.

On November 8, 1939, while driving in the Cicero section of Chicago, Eddie was gunned down when a mobster pulled up beside him and opened fire with a machine gun.  Eddie died instantly. It is a sad ending to the story of a family man who tried to set things right.

The second story involves a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  When the United States entered World War II, this twenty-eight year old lieutenant became a pilot and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, deployed in the South Pacific.  Known to his colleagues as Butch, this pilot of a single-engine fighter plane and his entire squadron were sent on a mission February 20, 1942.

Once airborne, Butch looked at his fuel gauge and realized that the crew on the aircraft carrier had neglected to fill his tank.  His commander ordered him to return to the carrier, accompanied by a wingman.  Reluctantly, Butch dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As the two planes made their way back to the carrier, they saw a squadron of Japanese bombers flying toward the Lexington.  The enemy was only about four minutes away from their intended target.  Butch and his wingman decided to attack, but the guns on the second plane had jammed.  Butch, his fighter plane low on fuel, was the only defense between the Japanese bombers and the more than 2,000 men who remained on board the USS Lexington.

The daring pilot flew at the enemy.  Wing-mounted 50-caliber guns blazed as he charged, attacking one surprised Japanese bomber and then another. He flew underneath one plane, blasting its fuel tanks and causing it to explode.  Peeling off, he attacked another from above.

Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

In a matter of minutes, he had destroyed five of the nine bombers.  Pilots aboard the Lexington who were able to take off after Butch first engaged the bombers shot down three more.  The ninth Japanese plane crashed at sea.

Butch flew his damaged fighter back to the carrier. Film from the gun camera, which was mounted on his plane, told the tale of his heroic action.

The lieutenant became the Navy’s first ace pilot of World War II.  He was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered to him a personal commendation.

One year later in another air fight, this courageous pilot died when his plane was shot down by enemy fire.

Revered in his hometown of Chicago, Butch O’Hare is remembered as a hero.  O’Hare International Airport is named for him. Butch’s memorial is located between Terminals 1 and 2. There you can find a statue of the courageous pilot and a display of his Medal of Honor.

So, how are these two stories connected?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s beloved son. Edward O’Hare would have been proud of his son and his good name.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

A good name is one of the most important gifts any father can give to his children.

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