All of America was waiting for the heroic return of Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, plucked from Bosnian Serb territory on June 8th, but O’Grady wanted to make one quick stopover — at Shannon Airport, in the west of Ireland.
“Ireland is my second home,” O’Grady, aged 29, told reporters after touching down on Sunday morning, June 10. “What a thrill this is. I consider myself an Irish American and I’m proud of it.”
And Ireland was surely proud of him. O’Grady’s cousins, who first met the Brooklyn native a year earlier, when he vacationed in Ireland for five days, came from Killiney, Co. Dublin, to meet him at the crack of dawn. They had been woken up at 6 a.m. by a phone call from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, with a request from Scott that they be at the airport.
“Of course we rushed right down,” said Brian Collins of Killiney, the husband of O’Grady’s second cousin, Maura Magaharan.
Said Maura, “Like everyone else, we were so anxious when we heard what happened to Scott. But you wouldn’t believe what spirit he has. He kept telling us he couldn’t understand why everyone was making such a fuss, that there were others who have been maimed for life and are far worse off.”
Within the coming days, all of the U.S. would similarly be touched by O’Grady’s modesty. He had survived on a diet of insects, grass and rainwater for six days behind hostile enemy lines, after his F-16 Fighter had been shot down. Eventually, he made radio contact and there was a dramatic helicopter rescue at dawn.
Capt. O’Grady’s paternal grandmother, Rose Briarty, emigrated from Co. Longford to New York, where she met her future husband, a fellow Irish immigrant, Joseph O’Grady. Scott’s family moved from Brooklyn to Spokane, Washington, but he now credits his interest in Ireland to his close childhood relationship with his grandmother.
At Shannon, the bugs and the grass seemed at least a million miles away, as O’Grady had a private pint of stout with his cousins, before continuing the flight towards a reception later that day at the White House. “When all the hype dies down,” he said, “I really want to come back to Ireland and spend some more time with my family and see more of the country.”
No doubt, they’ll be waiting.♦