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June 19, 2021

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve. Mail to P.O. Box 2337, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29304. Visit at 820 John B. White, Sr. Boulevard, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306. (864) 574-7724, info@hatchergarden.0rg

Kreswell Edward Neely was my grandfather.  I was fourteen years old the time he cussed the preacher out on the front steps of the church after a Sunday morning service. In my embarrassment, I tried to hurry my grandfather along, away from the preacher, away from the crowd, but Pappy would not be hurried. He couldn’t be.  A stroke left him partially paralyzed on the left side, and he walked with a limp, dragging his left foot, steadying himself with a cane. That is why I had become his designated driver.

At his funeral three years later, the preacher had the last word. “You never had to guess where you stood with Ed Neely. He would tell you what he thought.”

My grandfather was a man of few words. Some of them, sometimes many of them, were profane.  He was a Christian but said, “Being a Christian is a commitment to love the Lord and to treat other people right. It sure ain’t a promise to be nice and sweet and never say a cuss word. You can’t worry about what people think.”

Pappy taught me how to cuss and to pray. His prayers were straight from the heart. He spoke to God the way he spoke to everybody. He didn’t put on any airs. Praying was not about flowery language. Pappy was reverent, but he figured neither he nor God had time for drivel.

Pappy was a short, thin man, but tough as nails. For him, life was always difficult. His father died when Pappy was fourteen. He had to drop out of school to support his mother and three siblings. Several jobs and four years in the Navy became his vocational training. Through arduous toil and sheer determination, he was finally able to establish his own business. He started a lumberyard.

Five years later, in the midst of the Great Depression, with eight children and the ninth on the way, he lost his home to foreclosure and his business to bankruptcy.  As far as our family could tell, he was undaunted, always the Rock of Gibraltar for the rest of us. His way of dealing with hardship has served as an example for all of us. 

I enjoyed a special bond with Pappy. My grandfather wore a starched white shirt and a necktie that was custom-made to fit him. Unfortunately, Pappy was short. The long end of his tie was always behind the short end. Pappy solved the problem with a pair of my grandmother’s pinking shears. He simply cut off the long end.

Pappy taught me so much more about life and family and integrity and faith. When I was in the tenth grade, he called me into his office at the lumberyard. He showed me a check for $500 made out to a sawmill in Georgia.

“Kirk,” he said, “today I am paying my last debt from the Depression. I finally got them all paid off.”

 We enjoyed each other’s company. Conversation was sparse. When he spoke, he was direct, succinct, and salty. I mostly listened and asked questions. Pappy was a man of spunk, grit, stamina, perseverance, and faith.

One of the last conversions I had with Pappy was about the inheritance he was leaving. “Kirk, it ain’t much money. But I have tried to leave you a good name. Please take care of it.”

I don’t recall where I first heard these following two stories for Father’s Day, but I do know that legendary radio personality 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. 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 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 unless he changed his ways. 

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. A mobster pulled up beside him and opened fire with a machine gun.  Eddie died instantly. This is a true story with a sad ending.

The other story involves a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Immediately 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 on 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. Finally, 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. Then, 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 a personal commendation to him. 

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. As a result, 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.

I was fortunate to serve as pastor to Judge Bruce Littlejohn, Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. When we talked about his funeral plans just a few weeks before his death, he told me his favorite passage of scripture. It was one his mother taught him 

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold. “

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

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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