Colonel John F. O’Grady: Part 11: The Torn Photo



I was only five years old when my father left to serve in Vietnam and barely six when his plane was shot down and he went missing.  Yet, I remember my father with great clarity and vividness as the connection between us ran deep.  My small world revolved  around him, he was my Knight in Shinning Armour.   I can clearly recall  the thrill I experienced at the prospect of any precious moments I was able to spend with my dad.   Even the trivial things were special when I shared them with him.  A ride to kindergarten, a walk, a bedtime story or a sleigh ride with my father ignited the same spark and enthusiasm  as a new bike or a trip to Disneyland.  I recollect each day waiting impatiently for his arrival home from work.  I could barely contain my excitement upon his arrival, rushing to the door to greet him, it was the highlight of my day and stirred tremendous joy within me every time. As his youngest daughter; I epitomized the  term; “Daddy’s Little Girl”



We shared a unique attachment; one that not time, distance or separation could quell.   He nicknamed me “Love” as  I always showered him with affection and our  strong bond was timeless and endless.  I can recall once when I  was just barely 4 years of age, I had drifted into the mental state just between consciousness and sleep.  My father had arrived home late that evening, my mother saw me lying there in the playroom and told my dad to carry me to my bed.  As his strong arms lifted me up and he began to move me, I felt such peace, joy and tranquility, I can still hear my mothers whispers.” shh, quietly do not wake her”  I continued to feign sleep because  the comfort I felt in his arms was an amazing feeling of happiness and solace.

  My recollections are not just of memories but also of emotions evoked when I think of our time together. When I was near my dad I was overcome with a sense of safety and  security and most of all I felt utterly and completely loved and accepted by him. He made me feel important and unique..  My time with him helped me to gain self confidence, he believed in me and as a result I believed in myself.  


In later years I would derive strength from those early days with my dad.   My father’s love and guidance would carry me through many future storms in my life.  When I was faced with long days and endless nights of self doubt, failures and hopelessness, when tragedy stared me in the face and when I was ready to give up it was the recollection of my father that sustained me and rekindled my faith. I would encounter many dark moments throughout my life but somehow my memories helped me gain resolution which enabled me to move forward. The following is just one inconsequential story of many that my dad influenced in my life; A poignant moment in time:

For 35 years I  possessed only one photo of my father.  It was an old black and white picture of him wearing his flight suit, standing in front of his plane.  It was one of my most treasured possessions,  I always kept it in a frame hanging on my wall or sitting upon my mantle in every home I ever resided.  Whenever I relocated, it never felt like home until his photo adorned the house. 




Many years later in my life I married a man,  tall and smart like my father, and he instantly charmed me with his wiles.  I rushed into that marriage to my detriment.  After we married another side to this man appeared, one that could be cruel and insensitive.  He ridiculed  and belittled me and in time eroded my self worth.  Later his abuse was more blatant and his  displays of anger became more violent.  It was a slow progression that weakened my determination and self reliance.  Eventually debilitating all my will and inclination making it difficult break the cycle of violence and assert self determination.
The domestic violence progressed until it became a way of life to which I grew accustomed.  I made repeated unsuccessful  attempts  to end the marriage and break from him completely. Using my children as my excuse, I continually enabled him to slowly finagle his way back into our lives. I had allowed myself to become a victim of emotional, verbal  and physical abuse and I felt trapped, helpless and suffocated by his clever maneuvers. One day everything changed, a single moment in time would  become an awakening, my clarity, my salvation and my new beginning.

He was angry over something trivial again, and he grabbed the framed photo of my father,  He knew it was my only photo of my father, he was  keenly aware of my dad’s story and he realized the significance of that picture. He grabbed it off the wall, took the photo from its frame, threw the glass frame to the floor, the shattering glass felt like shards of glass ripping through my heart.  I stood there frozen, feeling  powerless as he took the photo from its frame.  He proceeded to rip the picture, as tears streamed down my face I grabbed the two remaining pieces of that photograph from his hands, determined to stop him from  tearing it any further,  I ran as fast as I could.

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Finally, I felt I was far enough away to be safe, and I sat down and cried, and stared at the photo of my dad.  It seemed my father’s eyes were glaring back at me and I suddenly realized  how far I had retreated from my father’s love and how far I had strayed from his belief in me.  In those early years he had taught me to be strong and self assured, he instilled in me the belief that I could achieve anything,  I had gained inner strength and confidence from him,  Yet, I married a man that had shredded my self esteem. This brief second of clarity made a lasting impression. I suddenly knew what  I  had to do. I would take back my life by making a clean break. 


Later I taped the two pieces of  the photograph  back together , hung it back upon my wall and then began the process of repairing the broken fragments of my life and healing my heart and soul~

I left my marriage behind in the ruins where it belonged, I took the necessary  steps to protect myself and my children and never once looked back.  That night  I felt my fathers presence , I knew he was  near.  He was conveying a message to me;  I was deserving and worthy of love and happiness. A message that stood in stark contrast to the words of a man that belittled, ridiculed and humiliated me and helped me feel worthless and unloved. I faced the following days with a new found courage and determination.





The photo still hangs on my wall and the torn piece, taped together is a constant reminder not to let self doubt overcome me,  and to never loose sight of what traits are truly important to possess and to never let anyone undermine these characteristics; dignity, integrity and self worth.

Ironically, this photo was posted on some of my personal websites, but ended up copied by others and ended up on other sites, and even in newspaper articles:  Yet, I was the only one who was aware of the tear in the left upper corner and the meaning behind it, I’m sure others never even noticed!

© This material is the copyright Tara O’Grady and cannot be duplicated in any fashion without the express permission of the Author. All rights reserved


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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