Describes the complex of all values that make up the public code of the individual. Significantly, honor provides the motive for action and demands adherence to a public moral code, not protection of reputation.
The Value in Action
World War II produced many heroes. One such hero was Lt. Cmdr. “Butch” O’Hare. Upon his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1937, he received his “Wings of Gold” after extensive flight training at the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. In late 1941, he was assigned to the fighter wing of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington as a section leader for Fighting Squadron 3 on duty in the South Pacific.
On February 20, 1942, O’Hare’s squadron was sent on a mission, and after they were airborne, O’Hare noticed that his fuel tank had not been filled to capacity. Knowing he did not have enough fuel to complete his mission and return safely to the carrier, O’Hare promptly informed his flight leader of the situation and was ordered, along with his wingman, to return to the Lexington. Reluctantly dropping out of formation, O’Hare and his wingman turned back toward the fleet, but while on their way, they saw something that chilled their blood. Through the cloud breaks, O’Hare and his wingman observed a squadron of nine twin-engine Japanese bombers headed straight for the American fleet. With all of Lexington’s fighters already launched on sortie, the fleet was literally defenseless.
There was only one thing to do since the rest of O’Hare’s squadron was too far away to be called back and arrive before the Japanese bombers engaged the American fleet. O’Hare and his wingman rolled their Grumman F-4F Wildcats into the Japanese formation and attacked. After their first pass, the wingman informed O’Hare that his guns were jammed, but O’Hare continued to press the attack, passing through the enemy formation again and again. Five enemy planes were sent down in flames and a sixth was badly damaged before the Japanese turned away from the American fleet. Not one enemy bomb had reached an American ship.
For his actions on that February day in 1942, O’Hare became the Navy’s first ace and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later, he was killed in aerial combat while pioneering night-fighting air tactics. After the war, O’Hare’s hometown sought to honor his memory by renaming the city’s airport, Chicago O’Hare Airport. You can visit Butch O’Hare’s memorial and statue and view his Medal of Honor; they’re located between Terminals 1 and 2.
Some years earlier there was another man in Chicago; his nickname was “Easy Eddie.” Easy Eddie was legal counsel for the infamous Chicago gangster, Al Capone. In addition, Eddie also ran all of Capone’s horse and dog track betting operations throughout the country. Eddie was very good at what he did, and his legal acumen kept Capone out of jail for a very long time. To show his appreciation, Capone lavished Eddie with great wealth and a powerful position in the Capone organization. In the depths of the Great Depression, when most Americans struggled simply to find work or put food on the table, Eddie and his family lived a life of plenty in a fenced-in mansion that occupied a Chicago city block.
Eddie did have a soft spot, however, a son whom he loved dearly and for whom he wanted the best of everything: clothing, cars, education. But there was one thing Eddie could not give his young son; the honor of a good name. For all of his wealth and influence, Eddie would always be linked to Capone and organized crime, to murder and extortion. One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision; for his son’s sake, he would try and make amends, clean up his tarnished name and give his son a semblance of honor. Because of his inside knowledge of the Capone organization, Eddie became the federal government’s most important informant, providing critical financial information that eventually led to Capone’s conviction and imprisonment on federal tax evasion charges. In addition to being a secret informant, Eddie also testified at Al Capone’s trial, which probably sealed his fate as he was gunned down on a Chicago street less than a year later. Easy Eddie bestowed on his son the greatest gift he could offer and paid the highest price a man of honor can pay. What, you may be wondering, do these two stories have to do with one another beyond highlighting the demanding nature of honor? E. J. “Easy Eddie” O’Hare was Butch O’Hare’s father.
Note: These stories were cited from www.acepilots.com/usn_ohare.html., and from R. Stewart Fisher and Perry J. Martini, Inspiring Leadership: Character and Ethics Matter, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania: Academy Leadership Books (2004).
No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.Calvin Coolidge
The Take Away
Live all of our values. Be an honorable person.
While being a value itself, and along with Respect forming our bedrock values, Honor is the overarching umbrella for all of our values. The desire to be an honorable person compels us to try and live above the common level and challenges us, daily, to ensure that our words and deeds are consistent. A highly-developed sense of honor provides the “moral compass” for character and personal conduct. It helps us decide what is right and what is wrong, and most importantly, gives us the ability and confidence to choose a harder right over an easier wrong. Many times, what’s in the rules isn’t what is right. Leaders of Character must have the strength to pursue the truth and avoid compromising their values. Honor is essential for creating a bond of trust among members of an organization, all the more critical for those who profess to be brothers. It is no coincidence that our nation’s highest award is the Medal of Honor. Recipients did not do just what was required of them; they went above and beyond what was expected. The journalist Heywood Broun once wrote of New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio that “the maintenance of honor in a pragmatic world is a difficult task.” Indeed it is, as current business and political scandals demonstrate, but to the Leader of Character and to the True Brother, honor is essential.