Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady returned to the United States on Sunday, embracing his family with long, teary hugs and declaring a new belief in miracles to a crowd gathered to welcome the rescued pilot home.
As he stepped from a plane at Andrews Air Force Base, the F-16 pilot, who had spent nearly six days in hiding after being shot down over Bosnia-Herzegovina, waved and saluted the crowd before being reunited with his family members. While clutching his sister, Stacy, O’Grady let out a deep sob, seemingly oblivious to the military brass surrounding him.
After wiping tears from his eyes, he told the crowd that in the past, he had doubted that miracles were possible. But now, he said, he credits God with the miracle of keeping him alive through his Bosnian ordeal.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without his love and all your prayers,” O’Grady, 29, told a few hundred well-wishers at the base outside Washington. “When I was out there, I heard all your prayers. I heard them all loud and clear.
“All I want to say is: God bless America and I love you all.”
Even before greeting his family, O’Grady was embraced by Gen. Ronald R. Fogelman, Air Force chief of staff.
Fogelman told the crowd that O’Grady was standing before them only because of his training, his “tenacious will to live” and faith in God and the “heroic efforts” of the Marine-led rescue mission that had brought him out under fire.
“His return exemplifies both the strength of America and the commitment of its people,” Fogelman said. “Scott, I’ve got to tell you: We celebrate your rescue, we salute those who made it possible and we thank God for your return.”
O’Grady grew up in Spokane, but his father, radiologist William O’Grady, lives in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va. Sister Stacy, 26, a teacher in the Chicago area, and brother Paul, 25, a dental student in North Carolina, joined their father in Alexandria after learning that O’Grady’s F-16 had been struck by a missile June 2 while he was flying on a mission over Bosnia. His mother, who lives in Seattle, flew across the country to be on hand, too.
Today, O’Grady and his family will lunch with President Clinton before a Pentagon ceremony.
One of those who gathered to welcome O’Grady on Sunday was Thomas Katt, 24, an electronics technician who lives on the base.
“We see him as the newest hero in America,” Katt said, holding his 6-month-old daughter in his arms. “There are not many people who could live through something like that.”
Sean Berry, 12, who held a colorful sign which he and his younger brother and sister had decorated with markers, agreed that anyone who had made it through what O’Grady did - nearly six days in hostile territory where you “have to eat bugs and drink rainwater and walk around in the wilderness” - is a hero in his book.