John O’Grady was born on August 31, 1929 in New Hyde Park, New York to Irish immigrants. He attended La Salle High School, a prestigious, private Military Academy. He attained the top ranking of his class, reaching the top ten of all students attending H.S. Military Academies across the country. His incredible academic achievements earned him an automatic appointment to Annapolis; “The United States Naval Academy.” He majored in Aeronautical Engineering and graduated with honors at the top of his class in 1952.
He served in the United States Air Force with excellence, and in addition to being an engineer he also became a jet fighter pilot. Later O’Grady earned his Masters Degree in Aeronautical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. O’Grady was a heavy weight champion boxer and a track star at Annapolis. He loved flying and earned his pilot license at 14 years old even before he was able to drive. He was a tall man standing 6’3″ in bare feet with curly brown hair and hazel eyes with a hint of Irish green. He was highly intelligent, very athletic and a devoted uncle, father, son and husband. He had high moral standards and lived his life with great integrity, and had a strong faith in God and his country.
He married his high school sweetheart, Diana Pascale, in 1952 and over the next 14 years they had seven children. As a father he embodied compassion and strength utilizing strict yet gentle discipline. He lived his life with honor, passion and integrity. He had an amazing zest for life and learning and instilled that fervor for life in his children. As an Air Force family the O’Grady’s relocated every couple of years, but the Colonel worked hard to ensure smooth transitions with as little disruption to the children’s lives as possible. They moved with the precision, discipline and strength of a typical military family. When the family would settle into their new neighborhood, he would encourage the kids to make the best of it, by making new friends, involvement in sports, school activities and by working hard to succeed.
Colonel O’Grady loomed large among his family as his career reached amazing pinnacles. In addition to his Masters Degree in Engineering, he had specialized training and expertise in the anti-ballistic weapons systems on the F-4 aircraft that he helped to design. O’Grady also worked on the Saturn and Jupiter rocket booster system at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, that put the first monkeys into space.
He could also be a free spirited child at heart, One childhood memory, I recall, that exemplifies this trait was when he dressed up at Halloween as the Great Pumpkin. Dressed in his homemade costume he’d venture out to surprise all the neighborhood kids. He interacted with us by playing games, nature walks, reading us stories and by listening. He taught us many lessons of life and living, manners, respect, loyalty and honor. He encouraged us to work hard, explore, learn, teach, achieve, question and seek answers. Most importantly he lived his life in an exemplary manner for his children to emulate.
Another memory is during Christmas he would lead all 7 children in wonderful rendition of the song “The Little Drummer Boy” using instruments, he would conduct the family orchestra. He taught us about family unity, community, strength and persistence. I recall every time it snowed he would take us and all the neighborhood kids on sleigh rides down the steep hills. He was a very loving involved, hands on Dad!
Colonel O’Grady was an aeronautical engineer and fighter pilot for the United States Air Force when his plane, a F105D, was hit by enemy rockets and caught fire over North Vietnam. On April 10, 1967, he radioed, ”I’m on Fire and I’m getting out.”
Forty five years ago, Col. O’Grady, was flying his 31st mission over, the Mu Gia Pass, when he realized he was off of his intended target. he did not want to drop the bomb
in a careless or reckless manner, endangering innocent villagers. So He decided to abort and make a second attempt at his target which made him vulnerable to enemy fire.
As a result his plane was shot down and his parachute was sighted deploying but with all the surrounding smoke O’Grady could not be seen. No rescued mission ensued and he was listed as Missing In Action. John O’Grady left behind grieving parents, a lost and lonely wife, seven confused and desperate children, and many friends and relatives that missed him greatly.
My name is Tara O’Grady and I am the youngest daughter of Col. O’Grady’s four daughters and three sons. For over 40 years I lived with uncertainty and hopelessness while I clung to embers of hope that he may come home. The only report ever provided to me was the original details of the day my father was shot down. His plane was on fire, he radioed for help, a parachute was seen and that was the end of the story, at least as far as I knew. I wondered for years about the specifics of my father’s journey. Had he been a prisoner and died feeling abandoned in some prison camp? Did he encounter the enemy and suffer a terrible death? Was he alive somewhere?
The feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, lack of information and knowledge I incurred for so many years exacerbated my feelings of despair and concern for what happened to my dad. Yet, during those years, our government had uncovered bits of new information culminating in a Detailed Report Investigation dated March 29, 2012, a report that contained critical information that I never received. That report contained details surrounding the capture, death and burial of my father. I did not receive any information about my dad until after I took the initiative and insisted with dogged persistence. I received the report in June of 2012.
On May 22, 2012, just prior to Memorial Day, 45 years after my dad went missing, I received a phone call from a cousin in New York, she excitedly tells me ,”They may have found your dad.” She had just read an article in The Newsday Paper in Long Island New York. It contained a detailed story of the events surrounding my father’s capture and later death. The article detailed my sister Patty’s journey to find his grave and bring him home! I was shocked, saddened, elated, confused but mostly devastated. Mixed emotions swirled in my head, Why did I not know anything about this? Why did I learn about my father from a newspaper article.? The Air Force had not informed me, family members had not told me anything, and though I was in constant contact with my sister, she never mentioned her planned trip to Vietnam or relayed any information uncovered about our dad. Yet, earlier on April 10, 2012, on the 45th anniversary of my father’s plane being shot down we reminisced about him. How could she do this?
The following is the information contained in the reports;
Two villagers found and captured Major O’Grady, his hands were entangled in his parachute which rendered him helpless and unable to use his radio to call for assistance. O’Grady was bleeding from a scalp wound, and he had a broken leg. Later he was sitting up and trying to talk to Ho Huan and the group of five villagers.
Just outside the village – Ho Huan explained – they had no choice but to turn him over to two North Vietnamese engineers attached to the 152nd engineering unit to to transport him to the 280th air defense regiment field headquarters. Ho Huan said that when they transferred Major O’Grady to the engineers, he was alive and not seriously injured.
O’Grady was transferred from the the villagers to the Vietnamese soldiers. One of those soldiers, Thiet, recounts having to take away a photo from O’Grady, which appeared to be of his wife and daughters. Thiet stated O’Grady clung tightly to the picture and was adamantly refusing to give it up. Thiet took it from O’Grady’s hand, recalling the incident so vividly because of the great reluctance the American soldier demonstrated.
Vo Dinh An and Nguyen Huy Thiet, the two engineers with the 152nd regiment of North Vietnam were interviewed by US officials and they recounted how they were told to transport O’Grady’s to a hospital, The soldiers did not have a vehicle so they carried him on a litter. They told of how O’Grady’s condition worsened during the arduous trip to the hospital. As they crossed the stream outside Y Lenh, Major O’Grady gestured that he was thirsty. Ho Huan said they did not give him any water because they had no cup. Throughout the long journey across the mountainside, John O’Grady was sitting up, animated, and talking to Ho Huan, and the others, although they could not understand him. As they approached Y Lenh, he fell silent. He stated that later he lost consciousness and died ..
They carried him a short distance up a hill, at the top was a Star Fruit Tree, using it a as a reference point, they buried him in an old bomb crater. They buried him with his shorts, shirts and his ID dog tags so he could be identified later and someday be returned to his family. The Vietnamese soldiers were Buddhist and the believe if a person’s body is not returned to his family they will haunt the earth.
After the government received this information, Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) began excavation of the alleged burial site. Patty O’Grady traveled to Vietnam and stood vigil at the burial site and JPAC requested she please leave. Patty refused and remained, interfering with JPAC’s work. Finally, JPAC was forced to suspend the excavation process. It has been over a year since they stopped looking for his remains because of one person. The government knows where he may be buried, Please go get my Father. Our family awaits
Later, O’Grady would go on to have 19 grandchildren that sadly will never know how amazing their grandfather was. Yet, each O’Grady grandchild carries on his legacy by living their lives with great courage and inner strength. They inherited his great work ethic and have each achieved great success in their own lives.