Sudden fame has its privileges, and for Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady one of them is better food. And, it’s fair to assume, better company to eat it with.
The pilot who a week ago was surviving on grass and ants after being shot down in Bosnia Monday dined on macadamia-crusted lamb chops and shiitake mushrooms at the White House.
Instead of huddling beneath the legs of two cows dubbed Alfred and Leroy while he hid from separatist Bosnian Serb soliders, his dining companion was President Clinton, who certainly wasn’t hiding as he escorted O’Grady and his family on a day of triumph. This time it was Vice President Al Gore who was reduced to huddling, on a nearby couch, after graciously yielding his usual seat to O’Grady at an Oval Office conference table before the group adjourned to the White House residence to eat.
But he wasn’t the only one deferring to the 29-year-old aviator. From the White House to a rain-soaked ceremony at the Pentagon, official Washington swooned for the accidental hero. If O’Grady seemed a bit embarrassed to be basking in the glow of the mighty, neither Clinton nor anyone else seemed at all embarrassed to be basking in the glow of him.
“I can tell you that he certifies he got a better meal today than he did in those six days in Bosnia,” Clinton said at the Pentagon. “But he gave us something more precious than we can ever give him - a reminder of what is very best about our country.”
Clinton greeted O’Grady at the White House with a salute. Using the pilot’s code name, Clinton said, “Basher 52, it’s good to have you home.”
O’Grady and the Marines who carried him to safety in a daring rescue last week have given the administration a simple story with an unalloyed happy ending - in dramatic contrast to a Balkans policy that is unrelievedly complex and beset by all manner of skeptics and second-guessers.
Yet O’Grady is more than a political symbol. It turns out the short, wiry fellow is a sex symbol as well, at least in the eyes of some.
“Oh, he’s cute,” cooed a young White House aide Monday, as she peered through a window while O’Grady, in a crisp dress-blue uniform, walked along the colonnade between the Oval Office to the residence.
Several of her friends lustily agreed.
There was one part of Monday’s special treatment that O’Grady declined to accept - the spring greens served on his luncheon plate that apparently reminded him a bit too much of his meals in Bosnia.
“Excuse me, Mr. President, if I don’t eat the salad,” O’Grady said, according to a White House aide.
The rest of the menu included grilled vegetable gazpacho and lump crabmeat salad, lamb chops with layered potatoes and mushrooms, asparagus, and a desert of fresh fruit and cherry sherbet. There was a choice of two wines.
At the Pentagon, sheets of rain were pelting the Air Force band and a crowd assembled by the River Entrance until the start of the ceremony, when the weather fortuitously cleared.
Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said O’Grady and the people who helped rescue him are “a vivid reminder, if reminders we need, that our greatest strength, and the source of our deepest pride, are our men and women in uniform.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: O’Grady may speak at Fairchild Capt. Scott O’Grady may soon visit his hometown and the people who taught him how to survive behind enemy lines. F-16 pilot O’Grady is tentatively scheduled to stop in Spokane on Thursday and Friday, Fairchild Air Force Base officials said. Details of the visit remain sketchy, but O’Grady could be asked to address a class of trainers who are graduating from Air Force Survival School at Fairchild. O’Grady grew up in Spokane and attended the combat crew training at Fairchild.