JOHN F. O'GRADY, COL, USAF
John O'Grady '52
Date of birth: August 31, 1929
Date of death: April 10, 1967
From the 1952 Lucky Bag:
John O'Grady was born on August 31, 1929 in New Hyde Park, New York to Irish immigrants. He attended La Salle High School Military Academy. He attained the top ranking of his class and reached the top ten of all students attending H.S. Military Academies across the United States. 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, he had brown very curly 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. O'Grady was a very loving and involved dad. He embodied compassion and strength and as a father utilized strict but gentle discipline. He lived life to the fullest and savored each moment. He had an incredible zest for living and he instilled his passion for life and learning into his children.
As an Air Force family the O'Grady's relocated every couple of years, but the Colonel worked hard to ensure easy 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 his children to make the best of their situation, by making new friends, getting involved in sports and other 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, with his homemade costume he would go out and surprise all the neighborhood kids. He played games with us, took us on nature walks, read stories to us and taught us many lessons of life and living. He taught his children manners and to respect others, and he encouraged us to explore, learn, teach, achieve, question and seek answers. Most importantly he lived his life in an exemplary manner which his children tried to emulate.
Another memory is at Christmas , he would lead all 7 children in a great rendition of the song 'The Little Drummer Boy' using instruments, he would conduct the family orchestra. I can recall when it snowed, while we were living in Maryland, him taking all the kids. even the neighborhood kids, on the sled down the steep hill we lived on. He was a hands on Dad!
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. Later, he would go on to have 19 grandchildren,that sadly will never know how awesome 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. TARA O'GRADY, TARALOGRADY@GMAIL.COM, 5/3/13
On April 10, 1967, the NVA 280th Air Defense Unit of the North Vietnamese Army hit Major O'Grady's F-105D with intense ground fire as he flew over the Mu Gia Pass - one of the most heavily defended targets in North Vietnam. John O'Grady struggled to maintain control of his aircraft.
With the plane on fire, he raced toward the border of Laos hoping to increase the likelihood he would be recovered. If he ejected too close to the NVA air defense regiment, there was little hope of escape.
So he took his chances and rode the crippled aircraft about two miles beyond the target. He stayed with it as long as possible without any hydraulic control before he finally pushed the ejection button.
However, on that long ago day the wind blew his parachute back toward the Pass to certain capture.
As the senior pilot in the air that day stated, "But for the way the wind blew that day, Major O'Grady may not have been left in the mountains of Vietnam..."
In four short months in Vietnam, John O'Grady, a USN Academy graduate, earned the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Star Medals, and a Purple Heart.
Unable to find citations for the Silver Star, Bronze Stars, or Distinguished Flying Crosses claimed above.
From Wall of Faces:
Last letter written by Colonel John F. O'Grady while serving in Vietnam
Colonel O'Grady had seven children and just before he was shot down over North Vietnam he wrote a letter to his youngest daughter, Tara O'Grady.
This is an exact excerpt from the letter he wrote to his 6 year old daughter:
"Daddy is flying a lot and the more he flies the sooner he will be home for good and thats what he wants more than anything else in the world so he can give out great big hugs and kisses to everyone, especially to little girls in the first grade." TARA O'GRADY, 8/15/14
You were a special and caring person and a huge hero of war. I salute you colonel. Love you forever. I will never forget you grandpa. DAVID BAKER, DARKPHEONIX2006@YAHOO.COM, 1/9/04
There are many other lengthy remembrances of John at Wall of Faces, along with many pictures. Not included here because they are often as not screeds about his loss and non-recovery, not his life.
There is an article from The Los Angeles Times on July 17, 1993 that details some of the efforts on behalf of his family to find out what happend to John. There are updates since 1993 on Patty's website, and many other thoughts and opinions at Wall of Faces.
Raymond Tacke '52 was also on the cross country team.