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O’Grady’s Priorities Worth Admiring

What can be done in five minutes?

Well, you can change a diaper if it’s not too gross. Make a bowl of microwave popcorn. Or listen to Paul McCartney sing most of the Beatles’ hit, “Hey Jude.”

What can’t be done in five minutes is glean any scintillating revelations from Spokane’s hometown celebrity flyboy, Capt. Scott O’Grady.

Unfortunately, five minutes were all I had Saturday when the fighter pilot barnstormed Auntie’s Bookstore to autograph copies of his new book, “Return With Honor” ($21.95).

Practically everybody by now knows that O’Grady’s F-16 jet was blasted out of the unfriendly skies last June as he flew over war-torn Bosnia. He spent six harrowing days eluding Serb forces behind enemy lines.

Until his rescue by U.S. Marines, O’Grady, 29, survived the ordeal by praying, drinking rainwater wrung from his wool socks and dining on leaves, grass and bugs.

Back home he has been hailed by millions as a hero.

“Scott O’Grady,” one of his fans told me, was the answer in the form of a question on “Jeopardy” last week. You definitely know you’ve hit the big time when you become part of the “Jeopardy” nomenclature.

Some, however, see O’Grady as nothing more than a lucky opportunist.

They have a point. For a guy who said, “I just want to have a normal life,” O’Grady hasn’t exactly shied away from this new-found stardom.

In just six months - to name only a few O’Grady sightings - he has appeared on Letterman and Leno, hosted war movies on cable TV and now is peddling a book.

That’s supersonic even for a guy used to breaking the sound barrier.

At Auntie’s, the O’Grady blitz continued. Interview sessions were scheduled with more speedy precision than a Desert Storm airstrike.

Media hounds representing three TV news crews, a radio station and two newspapers were given five minutes each alone with the pilot.

This wasn’t “Meet the Press.” This was slam, bam, thank-you man.

I was first up and I think I got short-changed while O’Grady draped his coat over a chair and dug out a bag of lemon drops to soothe his raspy-sounding throat.

With no seconds to waste on charm, I threw him a fastball high and tight. My question, to paraphrase, was does he feel worthy of all the hero worship or does he feel like a bit of a fraud?

O’Grady grinned. He danced around the issue, saying the hubbub was still “overwhelming,” but “nice.”

In the classical definition, O’Grady is no hero.

He didn’t risk his own neck to save someone else. He was shot down doing his job. He survived because of good fortune, courage, good training and the heroics of others.

What O’Grady is, is something far more important to this country.

He is a national role model. He is a symbol of sound character and moral value - virtues we haven’t been able to find in the White House.

Scott O’Grady is an honest man who credits God and country for his deliverance. How steeped in cynicism must we be to find fault with that?

O’Grady never billed himself as a hero. People want to “use me as something that’s tangible,” he explained. It’s an expression “of people in the United States being proud to be Americans.”

Hundreds of these people packed Auntie’s to buy a book and stand patiently in line for an autograph.

It was the biggest crowd the bookstore had ever drawn for an author. Bigger than Dan Quayle or Dave Barry or cartoonist Gary Larson, said Auntie’s Chris O’Harra, who ordered 900 of O’Grady’s books for the signing.

Mary Tracy was one of the buyers. The middle-aged woman definitely needed a Scott O’Grady transplant. Her previous role model, she said, was O.J. Simpson.

“I think O’Grady is a real down-to-earth guy who is genuine,” said Tracy. “From the get-go he always gave credit to the Marines and others.

“I think that’s way cool.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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