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Capt. Scott F. O'Grady cheers with well-wishes upon his return to Aviano AB, Italy, June 9. (Photo by Sgt. Stephen P. Alderete)
WASHINGTON -- Four days after his dramatic rescue, Capt. Scott F. O'Grady said the reaction to his return from Bosnia still amazes him and that his rescuers deserve the fanfare.
At a rainy Pentagon welcome ceremony June 12, hosted by Defense Secretary William Perry and accompanied by President Clinton, O'Grady said, "I just can't believe this response. It's just overwhelming."
|Capt Scott O'Grady waves to the crowd after being introduced by President Bill Clinton at a Pentagon ceremony in his honor June 12. President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William Perry join the crowd in applauding the F-16 assigned to Aviano AB, Italy. (Photo by SSgt Chris Putnam)|
The approximately 500 people who attended the ceremony welcomed O'Grady with applause and cheers as he got out of the presidential limousine flanked by Clinton, Perry and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of staff.
O'Grady's F-16 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile south of the Bosnian city of Banja Luka June 2. He evaded capture by Bosnian Serb forces for six days before his rescue June 8 by a Marine Corps search and rescue team with multinational support.
Since his return to Aviano AB, Italy, and his unit, the 555th Fighter Squadron, the captain has been the focus of international attention -- something he said is "still unreal in my mind."
"But if you allow me ... to accept all this fanfare in the honor of those men and women who deserve it more and didn't get it -- serving their country, not just in the United States, but also in NATO and the United Nations (Peacekeeper) -- to those men and women who suffered a lot more than I went through; those who are POWs; those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, both in wartime and peacetime for their countries; if you can do all this for me, then I'll accept all this," O'Grady said.
Clinton, who hosted O'Grady, his family and some of his friends at a White House luncheon before the ceremony, praised the rescue effort and its participants.
"They showed the nation and the world the best of our teamwork," Clinton said. "Their mission made all Americans proud, just as Captain O'Grady made all Americans proud."
Perry said the ceremony celebrated "true grit, great training, superior technology and outstanding leadership."
"The true grit is obvious to the entire country -- it was the courage and skill demonstrated by Captain O'Grady. They shot his plane down, but not his spirit," Perry said.
The great training was evident in the efficiency of the operation and O'Grady's survival techniques, Perry said. Leaders of the rescue operation were hoping for a night rescue to take advantage of the military's night-vision technology. But when O'Grady's signal was received -- just hours before dawn -- the decision had to be made to either wait another 18 hours until nightfall or attempt a daylight extraction.
"They chose to go," Perry said. "It was a gutsy decision that turned out to be the right decision."
Two hours and five minutes after receiving O'Grady's signal -- "This is Basher 5-2" -- the rescue team was on the ground. And in just a little over two minutes, they had the downed pilot aboard a helicopter and headed for safety.
Shalikashvili said O'Grady's and the rescue team's "professionalism, courage and inner strength" are vivid reminders that service members are "our greatest strength and the source of our deepest pride."
"Scott, today is an especially great day to wear America's uniform," he said.
Though soaked by the rain, SSgt. Orem K. Upton said he was caught up in the emotion of the ceremony. "He's a hero ... he did more than just his job," said the 710th Intelligence Flight member from Brooks AFB, Texas, on temporary duty at the Pentagon.
"It's good to recognize people who have done something extraordinary -- and what Captain O'Grady went through was certainly extraordinary," Upton said.
Karen A. Cooper and Betty B. Bizzocco stood cheering and waving as O'Grady and the president left. The women both work at the office of the Army's deputy assistant secretary of defense for installations and housing. They said O'Grady impressed them.
"This is a nice tribute not only to O'Grady, but to all our members in uniform -- who never get enough credit," Bizzocco said.
"It's a wonderful thing to feel all the patriotism the American people feel about this young man," Cooper said.
Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Jeff Cannon said O'Grady "sets a fine example for everybody."
"He's the kind of nice guy people can rally behind," said Cannon, who is working at the office of the Joint Chiefs of staff for the summer. "The operation was a great effort by the entire military. This is a great day to be an American."
From: Air Force News Service, by MSgt. Louis A. Arana-Barradas
This letter was circulated around the Internet, starting in AOL immediately after Captain O'Grady's rescue. This letter has been revised at the request of the pilot.
Date: 95-06-08 19:32:48 EDT (8 Jun 95)
To all my [buddies and "friends"] on the net - It was a good day today! As you guys have no doubt heard, we rescued Scott "Zulu" O'Grady today after 6 days of E&Eing [Escape and Evading] in the Bosnian countryside. We had an idea that he was still out there but hadn't had positive radio contact until about 0000Z this morning when [Pilot A] had some extra gas so he stayed in his CAP a little longer and tried to reach Zulu on the SAR A (PRC-112) freq from the day of the shoot down.
An F-16 of the 555th Fighter Squadron loaded for bear on its way to Bosnia.
After about 40 minutes of calls in the blind, [Pilot A] started getting some suspect clicks on the mike. Finally, Zulu came up voice. [Pilot A] didn't have all the info from Zulu's ISOPREP so he came up with a quick way to verify it was indeed Zulu, although it sounded like Zulu recognized [Pilot A]'s voice and called him by name (although the comm was weak since [Pilot A] was about 70 miles away). The comm went something like this.
" [Zulu] this is [Pilot A]"
"[Zulu], this is [Pilot A], are you up on this freq"
"This is [Zulu]"
"Say again, understand this is [Zulu]"
"This is [Zulu]...I'm alive"
"Say again, [Zulu], you are weak and unreadable, this is [Pilot A]"
"This is [Zulu]!"
"[Zulu], what squadron were you in at [name]?"
[reply....] " I'm alive!"
"Copy that, you're alive! [Zulu], sit tight and come back up at 15 past the hour"
[Pilot A] then started coordinating with Magic to pass words to the Deny Flight CAOC (command center) that he had positive radio contact with [Zulu]. They replied that [Pilot A] should pass the word "manana" to [Zulu]. When he did, Zulu replied "I want to get picked up tonight!" (imagine that). So [Pilot A] passed that to the CAOC and the decision was made to press with a rescue. We were 2 hours before sunrise so it would be daylight but there was concern (rightly so) that word would get out to the press and every SA-6 in the AOR would be mobile and spiking us and the rest of the rescue package. So they went ASAP.
[Pilot A] stayed airborne (now at about the 4 hour point in his sortie - one note here: Pilot A got high marks for wingman consideration [... and our alert guys were scrambled] (I was #2). Unfortunately, [Pilot B] and I had just gone from 60 minute alert to 180 minute alert and I had headed home to get some sleep. The phone rang at about 0255L (after about 10 minutes of sleep) telling me to get in there ASAP. I was back at the SQ in 15 minutes. Before I was even in the door, our ADO told me we had positive radio contact, get dressed, step, crank, and taxi ASAP - I would meet [Pilot B] in EOR whenever he made it in. We were in the air at about 0400L (1+05 from a dead sleep at home) loaded with [standard munitions for this type of mission]. We swapped out with [Pilot A] manning the cap and staying in touch with Zulu every 15 minutes. A SEAD package was getting airborne as [Pilot A] started his RTB. We had a plan with [other coordinating aircraft] to try to establish contact. But since we already had contact, the [other aircraft] just did a recce run to get a good fix on him and to check the weather.
Meanwhile, I was hanging on [Pilot B]'s wing 70 miles away listening to the whole thing, ensuring my tape was on. I can't wait to tell my grandkids about the day I put all my Weapons School training to use - "[Really], kids, there I was - tape on, tape off, tape on, tape off. The pressure was incredible!" Seriously, although I didn't do [anything], it was [great listening to the entire mission unfolding]. The helos were inbound, authenticating Zulu (they asked him what he was called in high school when he got drunk!) With a good ID they moved in, had Zulu pop some smoke, and picked him up. The whole thing from the authentication to the pick-up was about 10 minutes (seemed like an eternity). To hear comm like, "[Zulu], got you in sight", was pretty moving, especially after thinking for most of the week that Zulu was a mort ([his sortie buddie] didn't see a chute, no radio contact, etc.) I've never been choked up in the jet before, but I was this morning.
Unfortunately, they weren't out of danger yet. We hit the tanker and when we came back up to Magic freq the helos were about 13 miles from feet wet. Then I heard the escort chopper, [...] say, "Bud, impacts underneath you. SAMS IN THE AIR! SAMS IN THE AIR!" [...] Luckily, they missed, although they took some small arms fire and apparently the gunner from [the escort helo] silenced that. About 10 minutes later, we heard the call that they were feet wet, then shortly after that that they had "mother in sight" (the ship), two more bits of comm that I will never forget.
So we got one of our own back. What a day. I wish we could have done more in the rescue but it was almost entirely a Navy and Marine show (we and the mud-eagles were in the cap) and they kicked [...]. So don't bad mouth the [Navy and Marines] too loudly - they put on a good act today and we've got a Viper driver back because of it.
I thought you might enjoy hearing the story [from someone who was there! ...]. Fly safe, and check your six [...].
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