Tuesday, September 02, 2003



"I looked up and saw one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life - a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter coming to rescue me," he said, fighting back tears.
-Captain Scott O'Grady USAF

David H. Hackworth
June 20, 1995


Missing last week at the White House event honoring Scott O'Grady were the Marines who snatched the Air Force captain out of the jaws of the Serbian dogs of war. As I watched on CNN, I kept thinking any minute now Bill Clinton would do one of his aw-shucks-folks numbers and say to the American people, "Now ah'd like ya'll to meet Captain O'Grady's heroes," and before you could comb George Stephanopolis' hair, out would march the 57 Marines and Navy corpsmen who made Mission Impossible possible.

An Army sergeant summed up the 8 June rescue: "O'Grady did what he had to do to stay alive. The Marines went in to do what they're trained to do, but the risks they took were life and death high."

It was dark when the rescue force's choppers lifted off the deck of the USS Kearsarge and headed for the Bosnian badlands. Enroute to where O'Grady's location had been fixed, they joined an awesome NATO air armada.

Forty-two warriors, faces camouflaged, weapons locked and loaded and guts churning, sat aboard two choppers flying at treetop level. Here were the cutting edge of America's ultimate 911. Their protection from the thousands of automatic weapons and missiles held by brutal Serbs below was the dime-thin skin of the chopper's belly.

Service to Country and Corps, pride, spirit and iron discipline are what cause these Marines to do what they do. It's certainly not the pay. The lowest ranking Marine's wages on this adventure was less per hour than he could have made serving burgers at McDonalds, and if he had a wife back home, chances are she'd be making it through the month on food stamps.

Escorting the choppers were three Marine Cobra gun ships and four Marine Harrier jet fighters. The Cobra pilots made radio contact with O'Grady, and guided the choppers into a fog covered field, cluttered with trees and stumps. Grunts bolted out of the first chopper and secured the perimeter. As the second chopper landed, O'Grady hightailed it from the edge of the woods and climbed aboard.

With parade ground precision, the Marines withdrew from their security positions, reboarded their chopper and then lifted off. Not a shot had been fired and the flawless ballet of arms was executed in less time than it takes to lace up a pair of boots the morning after payday.

Twenty minutes out of the landing zone the proverbial stuff hit the fan. The Marines had kicked an ant hill hard and the nasties were in a stinging frenzy. Serb missiles corkscrewed through the sky and automatic weapons fire pinged off the choppers' rotary blades, slamming into both troop carriers.

Sgt. Maj. Angel Castro took a slug in the back; being a hard warrior, he didn't flinch, but continued to look after O'Grady and his Marines as they got the hell out of a very hot spot in the Serb sky. Fortunately, Castro's canteen stopped the bullet, and the only vital fluid he lost, so I'm told, was his water supply.

Commander-in-Chief Clinton and much of the press ignored these gallant men, concentrating instead on modest, Will Rogers-likable O'Grady, who, I'm sure, would want you to know their names:

Martin Berndt, Chris Gunther, Angel Castro, Anthony Barber, Gregory Hare, Zbigniew Wierzel, Derek Brown, Nicholas Hall, James Jenkins, Glenn Kirst, Dwayne Koceja, Todd Moulder, Scott Mykleby, Paul Oldenburg, Scott Pfister, William Tarbutton, Ian Walsh, Paul Fortunato, Chris Cottrill, Rashon Bennett, John Brokos, Robert Brooks, Paul Bruce, Michael Coats, Frederick Dasse, C.S. Faircloth, Bart Forry, Andrzej Gawrys, Jackie Hunt, Ernest Johnston, Justin Lewis, Justin Lindsey, Daniel Loven, Ryan Maher, Travis Miller, Robert Mooney, Anthony Parham, Michael Pevear, Terry Runyan, Martin Wetterauer, Christopher White, Shawn Williams, Eric Yoerk, Dong Yoo, James Adams, John Evans, Douglas Flanagan, Glenn Miller, Timothy Oberst, G.E. Coleman, Thomas Hillesheim, Andrew Sagarius, John Sprague, Steven Smith, Aaron Kahler, Michael Ogden, Harold Blot, John Sisson, Ronald Walkerwicz, James Wright, Howard Hiatt.

A patriotic reader of this column in South Florida is sending each of these heroes a choice steak. If you want to join the celebration, here's the address of these special men: 3/8th Marines, 24th MEU, Unit 82219, FPO AE 09502.



Scott O’Grady: Remember The Sacrifices
by Christina Siebold
posted August 27, 2003

Photo by Donnie Beauchamp
Captain Scott O'Grady shares his experiences behind enemy lines in Bosnia with veterans at Celebrate Freedom in Pigeon Forge. Click to enlarge all our photos.
Eight years and hundreds of speeches after returning from behind enemy lines, retired Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady still gets emotional when describing his rescue.

Following a week of evading capture by hostile forces in the Bosnian countryside, Captain O’Grady witnessed something he says he will never forget.

“I looked up and saw one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life - a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter coming to rescue me,” he said, fighting back tears.

Captain O’Grady was in Tennessee last week speaking at the annual Celebrate Freedom event in Pigeon Forge. He relayed his harrowing experience to hundreds of veterans gathered at the Veterans Memorial Museum.

While patrolling NATO’s no-fly zone over Bosnia in June of 1995, Captain O’Grady’s F-16 fighter was hit by a Serbian surface-to-air missile, forcing him to eject five miles above the earth. Upon landing, this 29-year-old pilot spent the next six days evading capture and attempting radio contact with the search and rescue aircraft above him.

Despite painfully slow movements to prevent being captured - rolling over took 30 minutes, a three-foot walk took two hours - and feasting on meals certified by the Scott O’Grady Escape and Evasion diet - ants, grass and leaves - Captain O’Grady said his six days in Bosnia were “the most positive six days of my life.”

During particularly difficult times, he said he thought of the POWs in Vietnam who survived up to seven years in solitary confinement being tortured every day. “I knew that my worst day out there was better than their best day in captivity.”

He credits faith in God and love for his family and country for giving him the will to survive the ordeal. “I didn’t have any revelations out there, and I didn’t learn any new lessons. But it refortified everything I was taught growing up about finding a relationship with God and the things that matter in life.”

And those “things that matter,” he assured the crowd, aren’t material. “Do you think when I was laying under the branches of that tree with the enemy searching three feet from my head that I was thinking about making it home to hug my car? No. I was thinking about getting home to hug my mom.”

Captain O’Grady made it home to hug his mom, and is now living in Texas and studying for his masters degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. While criss-crossing the country speaking about his experience in Bosnia, Captain O’Grady said he has seen the best of American patriotism living in its citizens.

“I have traveled from California to New York and everywhere in between and I’ve found really good, down-to-earth people who love their country and the individuals who are sacrificing for it.”

While he said patriotism has always found a home in the hearts of Americans, love of country has been especially fervent since September 11, 2001. “9-11 was a big reminder to all of us about how precious our freedom is and how we often take for granted what we have until we lose it.”

This former military man said he is amazed by the progress of the Armed Forces in the war on terror. From Afghanistan to Iraq, the last two years have shown the might of the U. S. military. “I’m pretty amazed at the progress we have made. The military, national security agencies and the Homeland Defense Department are doing a good job.”

As a serviceman who has seen combat, Captain O’Grady said those serving in the war on terror need their nation’s full support. Protests during wartime, he said, are a slap in the face to the military. “Protesting when troops are in combat is almost treasonous as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I know it would have affected me to know that people back home were protesting a war I was still fighting.”

Captain O’Grady insisted that the time for disagreement comes before a war begins. “That’s what our whole process of government is for.”

He said he found it especially disheartening to see war protests turn political. “I saw people championing their own political causes, not caring about the men and women who were overseas, away from their homes and families and ready to lay down their lives for their country. The protestors didn’t care about their sacrifices.”

Although the sacrifices may not come in the overwhelming numbers the nation experienced during Vietnam, Korea or WWII, Captain O’Grady says those fighting today still pay a price. “The conflicts since Vietnam have been limited in scale, and that has been a blessing,” he said. “But there are still sacrifices being made.”

“This isn’t Hollywood and we’re not in the movies. People in the military are real people with real emotions living in the real world. We’re asked to give our lives if necessary and we are willing to do that - to trade our lives for our country’s freedom.”

Captain O'Grady said his years in the military gave him a deep appreciation for his country, and for all those who came before him to secure its continued success. “I have seen poor nations and I have seen wealthy nations,” he told the assembled veterans, “but I have never seen another nation that affords its citizens more rights, freedoms or privileges than the United States of America.”

“We should never fail to appreciate the sacrifices of those that gave us that freedom.”

Photo by Donnie Beauchamp
Captain Scott O'Grady chats with a veteran at a book signing during Celebrate Freedom in Pigeon Forge. Click to enlarge all our photos.