Colonel John O’Grady; A Soldier’s Daughter

547431_562455203787039_260560916_nOn April 10, 1967 Col. O’Grady scribbled a letter to his 6 year old daughter, Tara. In his hurry to conclude, he had a mission to complete, he wrote, “Daddy is flying a lot and the more he flies the sooner he will be home for good and that’s what he wants more than anything else in the world, so he can give out great big hugs and kisses to everyone, but especially to little girls in the first grade. who won’t be in the first grade much longer.”

Colonel John O’Grady managed to place the letter into the out box just prior to flying his 31st mission over North Vietnam, as he put the letter in the box he did not realize it would be the last letter he would write!

Prior to the letter arriving to its destination of, Las Vegas, Nevada, the O’Grady’s family home, even before Tara was able to read the loving words her dad had written, two uniformed men knocked at the door. Those officers came to inform Tara and her family that John O’Grady’s plane was shot down and he was missing.

It would be years before Tara realized the full impact and extent of the devastating consequences resulting from this tragedy.

I am Tara O’Grady, a proud soldier’s daughter, and I recall the close bond and and attachment I shared with my father. I remember vividly the early morning he left our home to serve in Vietnam. He walked into my bedroom and sat upon my bed, he kissed and hugged me tightly as tears streamed down his face. He said goodbye and told me to stay in bed because it was too early to get up. A few minutes later he walked out the front door and I could not heed my father’s direction to remain in bed. I tiptoed out of my bedroom and proceeded to the living room. I pressed my face against the window, as tears welled up, I watched my father drive away. It was the last time I would ever see my dad.

For 20 years I re- read that letter hundreds of times, memorizing each and every precious word until it was lost forever in storage fire. I lost many things in the blaze that day, but none of the items scorched that terrible day ,affected me as much as loosing my Father’s Letter. The loss of my dads letter filled me with great despair, to know I would never be able to read his last words again was unbearable.

I kept vigil for my dad, I tried to keep hopes embers burning by staying faithful in my belief that his last wish to come home would someday come true.

I longed for, prayed for and dreamed of my dad everyday. I tried to wish him home to no avail. I attempted through the years to obtain information about my dad. I was told his plane was shot down, but not anything else, I did not know if was alive or dead. Obstacles that included family, lies, government and personal tragedies kept me from learning any further information about my dad for 40 plus years.

The Air Force ceased providing me with any information or documents at all, after a fraudulent call made by my someone claiming to be me stating “I do not want to received any further updates about my dad.” How could someone be that cruel, leaving me in the dark and filled with uncertainty? I remained in total abyss for many years wondering if my dad could be alive, alone, scared or suffering.

Through hope, prayers, sheer determination and the generosity of some caring strangers, I slowly obtained bits of information about my dad. For over 40 years I asked, Did He Suffer? Is He Alive? Is He Dead? Is he buried somewhere? I did not get many answers and the few answers I received just led to more questions. I was never able to say goodbye but I was determined to someday pay homage to my dad.

Twenty years after my father went missing in Vietnam and my family disintegrated from the emotional turmoil and stress, I would have to endure another tragedy even more devastating..

On January 30, 1987 my first child was born, I named her LeaAnna. When my daughter was born I was brimming with joy and excitement. An instant bond occurred and I felt a deep love I had never known before. After the birth of my baby girl, I became a mother and experienced intense new wonderful emotions. I loved this beautiful little girl with every inch of my being. The following days were filled with great happiness, I derived so much pleasure from caring for, watching over and holding this amazing child. When I stared into her eyes I could see my father’s reflection looking back. The bond I felt with LeaAnna reminded me of the close bond I shared with my dad.

The ecstasy I felt every single day after her birth was short lived, six weeks later my world would be shattered. On March 4, 1987 after spending some quality time with my baby, changing, dressing, feeding & playing with her. I lay down upon the couch to take a short nap with her wrapped in my arms. I awoke 20 minutes later to an indescribable nightmare. My daughters face was blue. I panicked, screamed & called 911. I held her close as I awaited for help and It seemed like an eternity. Finally, a police officer arrived and began CPR and by the time the ambulance appeared her heart had re-started which provided me with false comfort and hope. When we arrived at the first hospital they said I should talk to her because she was able to hear me. Through oceans of tears I whispered, “I love you, I need you, please come back to me. I continued, “I am sorry, Please God, give her back to me.” To gaze upon my beautiful baby girl and see her hooked up to so many machines was extremely shocking and devastating. I wanted desperately to believe she would be alright, I prayed harder than I ever had before, I wanted and needed my baby girl to live.

Later they transported her by helicopter, Life Flight, to a Children’s Hospital where she could receive better care. As we drove the lengthy arduous trip to the Children’s Hospital, I stared out the window despondent as despairing thoughts engulfed my mind. When we finally reached the hospital and rushed to my daughter’s side, the doctor pulled me aside and said, my daughter was brain dead and insisted she be taken off of life support. I did not want to do that, I could not give up on my child. I must keep faith and hope, just as I did 20 years earlier to never desert my dad, to hope & pray that he was still alive.

I went to the chapel to pray and when I came back they told me I could see my girl. I walked into her hospital room, sat upon her bed grief stricken at the sight of her lying there so still. I wept, prayed, pleaded, screamed and begged for her to live. The machines were deafening and I was heartbroken and felt utterly helpless, seeing my precious baby hooked to them.

A few minutes later the nurse asked if I would like to hold her, “Of course I wanted to hold my baby now and forever” The nurse proceeded to place her in my arms, to feel her tiny body so close to mine was comforting and provided a moment of serenity. Suddenly alarms were blaring and the sound startled me back to reality. Afterwards I realized they were removing her from life support, I was stunned and shocked because no one had informed they were going to do that and I had never consented.

As I swaddled her near my heart I felt my baby’s spirit leave her body and fly away. As she slowly drifted away from me I felt desperate knowing there was not anything I could do stop it. I would have done anything, I would have given up my own life to save hers. How do you say goodbye to your child? I just wrapped her near to me and sobbed while holding her for as long as they would permit. I was devastated, heartbroken, and inconsolable in a manner that is inexplicable to others. My baby girl, LeaAnna Marie, my precious child, the love of my life died that day on March 30, 1987. My life would never be the same and I would never recover from her loss.

While I remained grief stricken and filled with despair from the incomprehensible loss of my daughter, my grandmother was very ill with cancer. Frances O’Grady was Col. O’Grady’s mother, he was her only child. On April 10, 1987 my grandmother was hospitalized and lapsed into a coma, exactly 20 years from the date her only child went missing. She died 3 days later on April 13. 1987. She died sadly never knowing the fate of her son, not certain if he was alive or dead.

I believe on the terrible day that my daughter left this world, my dad received a piece of me in Heaven, and welcomed LeaAnna with open arms. My grandmother arrived shortly after LeaAnna so she could help my dad to take care of my baby girl.

My grandmother and daughter have serene, tranquil resting places but not my father. I still lived with not knowing the fate of my dad.

I was a soldier’s daughter and I was not going to let my father die and anonymous death, an unsung hero, a forgotten warrior, a lost casualty of war or an unknown soldier. I needed to know if he was dead or alive. I needed to honor his memory and tell his story. Eventually, I learned he died a prisoner of war…died in captivity. I still seek closure; How can a man be gone forever and never buried? Now I tell his story through websites and other avenues until the final chapter occurs. I so desperately want to kneel at his grave site, say a prayer, place a rose and leave my father to lie in peace on the soil of his homeland. His remains must be returned home to his family where he belongs. He need to rest on American soil. There was never a funeral of Memorial Service for my father, I was never able to say goodbye.He deserves the honor and respect of a full military honors funeral and to be buried in a solemn place.

I never gave up then~I will never give up~

About coloneljohnogrady

Colonel John F. O'Grady a United States Naval Academy graduate, and aeronautical engineer and fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force was shot down over Vietnam on April 10, 1967. Though he ejected from his crippled aircraft he was listed as Missing In Action. John O'Grady earned the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Two Bronze Medals and the Purple Heart. Read this heroes fascinating story and about the impact on his wife and seven children.
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