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O’Grady’s Spokane Visit Put On Hold Persistent Foot Problems Force Pilot To Delay His Appearances

Spokane will wait a few days to see its newest favorite son in person.

But local residents are getting plenty of chances to watch or read about Capt. Scott O’Grady while they wait.

O’Grady - whose accomplishments include evading Bosnian Serbs for six days; gracing the cover of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report the same week; and making NBC news magazine anchor Jane Pauley giggle on camera - needs a few more days in the hospital.

Persistent foot problems have O’Grady under doctors orders to rest and stay off his tired dogs, at least until Saturday.

Wednesday, the 29-year-old pilot sent his regrets to his hometown and Fairchild Air Force Base.

“I sincerely appreciate the incredible outpouring of prayers and support I’ve received since my return. My doctor and I have agreed that it is in my best interest to stay off my feet for a few more days,” he said in a message relayed through Fairchild.

The delay means O’Grady will be unable to give the graduation address for a new group of instructors at the Air Force Survival School.

Base officials said his schedule next week remains tentative. A public reception planned for Friday afternoon in downtown Spokane is on hold until his schedule becomes firm, a spokesman for the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce said.

O’Grady is suffering from “immersion foot” the result of his six days in the cold, damp hillsides of Bosnia with no change of socks and no chance to dry out. His feet ache and he is occasionally light-headed, Air Force officials said. He’s taking anti-inflammatory drugs.

Despite the foot problems, O’Grady has borne up well under speculation of which actor will play him in a movie, suggestions that he is America’s most eligible bachelor and a possible offer to be a spokesman for BMW.

Why BMW? While stationed in Italy before he was shot down, O’Grady walked away from an accident that totaled his new BMW.

His Spokane friends say he probably didn’t even need many tips from Vice President Al Gore, who reportedly offered the pilot some advice on dealing with the media.

O’Grady likely will tell his story as long as people want to hear it, friends said. He’s always rolled with the punches, and is gracious - and witty - enough to handle the national media.

“He may get tired of it, but he’ll keep coming through as long as he thinks he’s doing some good,” said high school friend Betsy Wiegle.

She thinks O’Grady will soon be a recruiting spokesman for the Air Force. “He is not the type to let anything go to his head.”

Despite his foot problems, O’Grady kept his appearance on the “Larry King Live” show Wednesday night, saying it was “an appearance I had already committed to.”

The live call-in show capped off a week in which he appeared on network news morning shows and evening news magazines.

Tuesday night, he even had fun with his new-found celebrity. When “Dateline” anchor Pauley asked what was the hardest part of his evasion tactics, he paused, then asked if she meant the Serbs or the news media.

“You got me on that one,” a giggling Pauley replied.

O’Grady’s fame is rubbing off on some high school friends. Reporters from around the country are scouring Spokane for something - anything - on the pilot before he became America’s latest military hero.

Like O’Grady, they may be getting a little tired of the national media attention.

Meg and Steve McMullen, friends of O’Grady since their days at Lewis and Clark High School, spent more than a hour Saturday with “Dateline” reporters who came to their South Hill home.

Not a single word the McMullens said about O’Grady made it into the final story.

Meg McMullen’s name, however, did appear on the screen with Wiegle’s picture.

“There have been mistakes like that, and we’re getting to the point where we sort of have to draw the line,” Meg McMullen said. “Scott wants this to be over, too, I think. He just wants to get his life back to normal.”

After his rescue last week, O’Grady called Steve McMullen, who immediately started teasing his old pal about being both a hero and a sex symbol.

“Hey, G.I. Joe,” McMullen said.

“With Kung Fu grip,” O’Grady shot back.

Some of O’Grady’s high school friends sent him a special package for his homecoming last week. Inside the box were newspaper stories and video tapes of his rescue and a plastic F-16. A replacement plane, they said.

Wiegle said she hopes O’Grady will get to spend some private time with friends when he finally returns to Spokane. But she’s not sure he will - even though a quiet evening with a few good friends would be just O’Grady’s style.

“When you’ve got a brigadier general and two lieutenants to get through, it’s a little difficult to plan a private party,” Wiegle said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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