Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Someone To Look Up To

By Joseph Cunningham

Based on a true story.

A crystal sun lit up the sky as the roar of fledgling fighter planes spread out over the waves. The aircraft carriers behind them had long since faded away under the clouds with the rest of the fleet. The ocean below shimmered a green-blue smile as the islands in the distance beckoned freedom. And freedom it would be.

The leathered warriors gripped their flight instruments as their hearts pounded in their chests. Suddenly, a plane pulled from the group and began heading back from where they had come. A voice came over the radio.

“This is your flight commander speaking,” he said.

“Seems I’m low on fuel, gotta’ turn back. Continue on course; I’ll meet you guys later.”

The captain glanced back at his mighty squadron and waved a silent salute. The name outside the cockpit read: “Captain Butch O’Hare, U.S. Navy.”

Butch bit his lip and shook his head as he looked at the fuel gauge: it was just enough to get him back. Someone on deck was in for push-ups – a lot of push-ups.

Time passed. Butch turned his gaze to the ocean. Wait a second! The young pilot squinted as he watched a group of black dots move over the horizon. Big dots, moving fast – moving towards the fleet. Capt. O’Hare pulled his plane up to the sun: he wanted a good look before he made any decisions.

He looked again. Just what he expected – bombers – and little fighter planes with little red dots on their wings. Japs!

Captain O’Hare instinctively reached for his radio – but he pulled his hand back. Calling his comrades could cripple their mission, and radioing his carrier would tell the Japanese something they just might not know: the location of the allied fleet. Either way, no one would get here on time.

“Decision number one,” Butch thought, “Let them pass, hoping they won’t see me or the fleet.” The pilot shook his head.

“Decision number two,” he said out loud, “Throw ‘em off course and take down as many as I can with me.”

Butch O’Hare smiled and tightened his gloves. He pulled out the radio from under his seat and screamed over the mike: “Good morning Japan!”

Butch dove his plane towards the unsuspecting Japs, guns blazing, spinning like a top. He downed one of the massive bombers on his first pass: it burst into flames and dropped to the sea like a dead duck. O’Hare turned for another run; but this time the Japanese dragon was awake. The captain took the fleet head-on: their gunships firing away while the rest of the handful of fighters swarmed round Butch.

“Priorities, Butch,” he mumbled to himself, “first the fighters, then the bombers.” The Navy plane swirled, climbing to the sun. The Jap wasps followed but Butch was too fast. He arched and turned: now he was behind and they were right in front of him. He squeezed the trigger and one by one, they fell from the sky.

The bombers! He almost forgot. Butch’s plane shook as bullets from the angry planes thudded against his armor.

“You don’t seem so happy,” he said. The Navy plane rolled and dove under the ships, then arched its way into the sunlight above. “You just lost your bodyguards.”

He dove again, emptying another cartridge into the bleeding dragon. He dove again, and again. “Seems you can’t take a hint.”

Butch levelled a third bomber, emptying his last cartridge. His fighter was out of ammo – but he wasn’t done. O’Hare flew his Navy plane in and out of the bombers, dizzying the gunners and startling the pilots. In an effort to hit Butch, some of the Japanese guns began to fire at their own planes. After a few minutes, the group changed direction.

“Looks like you guys failed your mission. Isn’t that too bad.” The Navy pilot smiled and gave a short sigh of relief. “At least the fleet is safe from those bombs.”

Twenty minutes later, Captain O’Hare landed his tired plane on the flight deck of an Allied aircraft carrier. Medics and mechanics ran toward the crippled ship as black smoke leaked out of its chewed-up sides. O’Hare climbed down from the cockpit before anyone could make a scene. He was holding his side – he was bleeding. 
An officer marched over to Butch and ordered him into the sickbay, while another removed the camera that had been hidden under his plane to record the squadron’s mission. After the rerun, Butch’s story circulated around the fleet. Butch was a hero – he had saved the fleet, he had saved their lives.

It had happened once before…

They called them the “Roaring Twenties.” Violence plagued a nation; and in the streets of Chicago, fear was law; fear in the hands of a man named Al Capone. 

Crime was the “business of the day,” and Al dominated. With his green-backed power, he bought the dirty hands of some of the sharpest minds in the business. And the sharpest of them all was a man whom they called “Easy Eddie.”

Easy Eddie was a lawyer, and a good one – the best. He was Capone’s chief justice and he was slick, real slick. He could slither his boss out of anything and did: theft, perjury, even murder.

Capone pampered his prize puppet like a champion race horse. He gave him everything: the best clothes, the best cars, a big house, servants, butlers – Al had to keep Eddie happy; he was too precious, too important. Eddie smiled, but Eddie wasn’t happy.

Eddie sat in the living-room of his urban mansion. The warmth of the fireplace cuddled against his trousers as he lit a twenty-dollar cigar and stared into the freezing rain outside. He glanced at the velvet curtains and the grand piano, the stoic statues and the lifeless paintings on the wall. The smell of fine wine and slim candles drifted through the air, and then Eddie saw his son. 

He was only a boy. The youngster ran across the room into his daddy’s arms, casting his gaze into his father’s eyes, smiling. Eddie kissed his son’s forehead and ran his fingers through that soft young hair. He stared deep into the boy’s eyes: so blue, so innocent; like his own had been so very long ago.

The little boy giggled and sprang onto the carpet; rolling his new red engine wildly across the floor. And Eddie watched. His eyes watered, locked in the image of his young son. He had everything; but there was something Eddie couldn’t give him, something money could not buy – two things: good example, and a good name. His kid would grow up hearing his dad was a criminal, and someday, Easy Eddie’s son would realize it was true. 

“And God forbid,” whispered Eddie, “that he grows up a rotten crook like me.”

And so, Easy Eddie made a decision. On that rainy Chicago afternoon, Ed drove his fancy car to the City Police Station. He didn’t hide his face under his collar, he didn’t fake his name at the front desk. He told them everything, knowing exactly what he was doing, knowing just what would happen to him because of it, picturing in his mind the price he’d have to pay if his boss found out – when his boss found out. And it wouldn’t be long before he did.

It happened on a stormy night. The city shivered in the rain, while the wind howled and shrieked over the slippery roads. A blue sedan slid through the city side-streets, driving frantically as if chased by a ghost, with Easy Eddie at the wheel. Sweat streamed down Eddie’s face; the car behind him wouldn’t turn – he was being followed.

It was a black Cadillac. A thick shadow of rain blocked any chance of seeing who was inside, but Eddie didn’t have to look back to know who it was.

He pumped the gas and swerved his sedan through the darkness. Maybe, just maybe, he could get away alive. The Cadillac grasped the sedan in its glaring headlights. They were too fast. Eddie shifted into high gear, taking several turns in quick succession, and when he turned his head, they were gone. Ed breathed a sigh of relief. Now to get outta’ here.

The black night hid the road signs. Funny, the street lights were out. Eddie drove on, until his headlights spotted a sign that blocked the road in front of him. “Detour, this way.” Strange: he didn’t remember seeing that before. He turned anyway. 

About halfway down the street, Eddie heard a hissing noise pierce the darkness. He stopped the car and ran his shaking fingers through his hair. He could see the broken glass scattered over the road; he could feel the car sink as its tires blew out his last hopes of life. He didn’t run, he didn’t get out of the car; he just sat there crying, taking his last look at a picture of his young son before the bullets hit the windows, broke the glass, and mauled his body.

Eddie’s son would grow up an honest kid, proud to bear his father’s name and tell his father’s story. It was the story of the man who had made the right decision in the face of death, so that his son would have a good name, a good example; so he would be a man, and someday do the same. 

And Eddie’s son did. 1941 hit and the young man joined the fight for freedom. He became the first pilot to receive the Medal of Honor during the Second World War. Shortly after, he was killed in combat, shot down in the line of duty, sacrificing his life for the cause of right as his father had done years before. His name would remain so renowned, that folks from his hometown would later name their city’s airport after him. Today they have his statue in one of the terminals. Old men still salute when they walk by.

You see, Easy Eddie’s full name was Edward O’Hare. Captain Butch O’Hare was his son.

A version of this storty, written by the same author, was originally published on GoodNews.com, circa 2005.

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