Scott O'Grady

Scott O'Grady

On October 12, 1965, O'Grady was born in Brooklyn, New York, and years later his family moved to Washington State. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he played soccer and football. Though he couldn't excel at football, he disliked giving in, giving up, or losing. These qualities followed him in his life as he wanted to be a military pilot. Both of his parents flew small airplanes for recreation, and O'Grady soared into the wild blue yonder at an early age. As a teenager, he was taking flying lessons. After high school graduation, he attended the University of Washington for a year because the Air Force Academy wouldn't accept him based on his low SAT scores. Then he took time to figure his life out.

Leaving college, he skied at Sun Valley and worked as a dishwasher to earn money. Eventually he returned to school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. He joined the ROTC and studied hard for a degree in aeronautical science. O'Grady took lessons at Fort Benning, Georgia, learning to skydive, and further augmented his education with survival skills and field training. His extra work helped enable him to earn a prestigious Air Force pilot scholarship. This paid for the two years he needed to finish his education at Embry-Riddle and required a nine year commitment to the Air Force.

Graduating fro Embry-Riddle, O'Grady received a second lieutenant's commission and a position at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. There he learned about fighter planes and quickly figured out how to fly over 300 miles per hour. After basic fighter training and F-16 training, he joined the 80th Fighter Squadron in Seoul, South Korea, before heading to Germany and the 526th Fighter Squadron. Logging over 500 hours in a F-16, he earned the rank of captain and flew missions in Turkey and Iraq. It was a year after he joined the 555th Squadron in Aviano, Italy, that the world learned about Scott O'Grady.

June 2, 1995, brought a seemingly routine mission to O'Grady. His job as part of the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the former Yugoslavia was to patrol given areas to ensure that the no-fly zone over northern Bosnia wasn't being breached. Unfortunately, during his flight, a surface-to-air missile sliced his fighter in half. Having to eject, he plummeted toward the ground and pulled his parachute. This signaled the Serbs below who started out to find him. Scrambling out of his parachute as soon as he landed, O'Grady sprinted for a dense stand of trees. He covered his face and hands with mud and lay down. Still and quiet, O'Grady feared capture as men with guns came very near. Equipped with a Global Positioning System on his two-way radio he tried contacting help, and at first he was unsuccessful.

As days went by, he ate leaves and ants and drank rainwater he collected. Finally, someone caught his signal and when O'Grady confirmed his identity by radio to a fellow pilot, he knew the U.S. military would come for him. It'd been six days on the ground in hiding. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit made the rescue and had to avoid heavy Serb fire to escape.

O'Grady retells his miraculous story with the help of Jeff Coplon in the book Return with Honor, an autobiography. His book for children called Basher Five-two he co-wrote with Michael French. Though Twentieth Century Fox released the movie Behind Enemy Lines, O'Grady claimed they'd never gained permission to make a film even somewhat resembling his life. The parties settled the dispute in 2004. O'Grady has since retired from active Air Force duty and has earned his Master's degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Basher Five-Two
by Scott O'Grady & Michael French
from Yearling
Autobiography for 4th-8th grade
in Biographies (Location: BIO)