After 'hanging tough' for six days, pilot's family cheers with joy at news he is safe

June 09, 1995|By Sarah Lindenfeld | Sarah Lindenfeld,Contributing Writer Sun staff writer Carl M. Cannon contributed to this article.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The shouts and cheers in the O'Grady's && family room reached their peak when the television showed the first pictures:

There was Air Force Capt. Scott F. O'Grady -- safe -- after having been rescued by the Marines.

"I didn't think he'd look that good," William O'Grady said, seeing his son for the first time since the rescue early yesterday.

"But . . . he looks great."

The younger O'Grady has been an Air Force pilot since 1989.

There was training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; duty in South Korea; then in Germany; then with the 555 Fighter Squadron, based at Aviano, Italy -- the starting point for the reconnaissance flight last week that ended with his F-16 being shot down by Bosnian Serbs.

His family, including his sister Stacey, 26, and brother Paul, 25, gathered at William O'Grady's home as soon as they heard the news that the pilot was missing, and kept in contact with his squadron commander throughout the six-day ordeal.

Paul O'Grady drove from Chapel Hill, N.C., to "hang tough with the family" -- taking long walks and biking.

"It was just hell," he said yesterday.

"It was total mental anguish. There was nothing concrete.

"I knew he could survive out there. My only question was did he eject [from his plane] on time."

At 12:48 a.m., Scott O'Grady's squadron commander called the family with the news that the captain had made radio contact with his would-be rescuers.

Less than an hour later, Air Force Gen. Michael Ryan telephoned with the news that Scott was aboard a U.S. helicopter.

Shortly after that, Captain O'Grady was safely about the USS Kearsarge in the Adriatic Sea, and there was a call to Alexandria from President Clinton.

The call that mattered most came at 3:30 a.m., when Captain O'Grady called home.

"He sounded great," Paul O'Grady said.

"He said he was tired and he was hungry.

"It was great that he called and let us know that he cared.

"He earned a lot of my respect."

Since his high school days in Spokane, Wash., Scott O'Grady had wanted to become a fighter pilot and fly an F-16.

He was the one his family thought was inordinately calm, the one never easily ruffled.

"If you asked him," the pilot's mother, Mary Lou Scardapane, told reporters in Seattle, "he'd just say, 'This is my job, this is what I do.' "

This nearly turned out to be prophecy: Yesterday afternoon, when Mr. Clinton called Captain Grady and praised him for his bravery, the young flier replied, "The rescuers were the real heroes."

Mrs. Scardapane had worried about her son and his colleagues.

She had told military officials before the rescue that while she wanted her son back, "I didn't want anybody else to be put in jeopardy."

One rule was always enforced when Scott O'Grady was growing up, she said.

She always insisted that if he was late coming home, he better have a good reason.

This time, he was late by six days.

"When he gets home," said Mrs. Scardapane, laughing, "he had better have a darn good story."

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