The Phone Call
Colonel John O'Grady POW/MIA The Phone Call
When we loose a loved on we cling to recollections of the soothing sound of their voice, thoughts conveyed on a piece of paper or an image seared in our mind of a final hug, kiss or smile. Lasting impressions that sustain us through the difficult days ahead. A soldier fighting abroad today can video chat with their children, send emails and utilize cell phones maintaining more regular contact, making the miles between them disappear for a moment. The Vietnam War occurred in a different era , there were no cell phones, satellites, or computers which made the distance seem even farther.
My father, Col. John O'Grady was serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1967. Our family, my mother and six siblings maintained contact via letters and audio recordings. Our father would send the family recordings on old reel to reel tapes. Those tapes were filled with loving words of encouragement and gentle reminders of what he expected of each one of us. The sound of his voice was always soothing and comforting, for at least we knew at that very moment he was safe.
We would anticipate receiving the tapes from our father, and upon its arrival we would impatiently wait with bated breath for the evening hours. After dinner we would all gather around the family room table to hear the sound of his voice and savor his words.
Later in the evening we would take turns placing our messages on tapes to send to him. Those audios were sent 8,000 miles away but they carried with them all our hopes, wishes and dreams. Words and phrases construed painstakingly that contained heart felt messages sent to a far away land. Each tape was filled with children's voices abound with absolute love, longing and adoration.
After April 10, 1967, the letters and tapes ceased, as my father was listed as Missing-In-Action after his plane was shot down and he parachuted into enemy territory.
Forty five years later, I received a phone call from my cousin, Margie, in New York alerted me that on May 22, 2012, that they may have found my father, To hear her speak those words was astonishing and together we reveled in excitement at the prospect of my father, her uncle, being returned home. The news was amazing, incredible and unbelievable that he was found after all these years. Margie had discovered the news through an article published in Newsday, I immediately searched for more information and details about this event, which led me to discover my older sister, Patty was in Vietnam and had found the site where she believed he was buried.
( details of the information about my dad is contained in the Newsday article dated My 22, 2012, posted on this site in the background page)
She later told me that the excavation of site was ongoing. Over the next few days I would receive daily updates from my sister, Patty, she was in Vietnam and was keeping me abreast of the continued search for our dads remains. Joint Prisoners of War,Missing In Action Accounting Command,(JPAC had obtained enough information to provide almost the exact coordinates of his burial site. Information was also conveyed that O’Grady’s dog tags were buried with him.
On May 26, 2012 at 2 am I awoke to a phone call that at the time I thought was life changing. I answered the phone, still half asleep to the sound of my sister, Patty’s voice. She was calling from a remote village in Vietnam, she said with great excitement, “They Found Daddy”, “They really found him” Now I was fully awake, I was astonished and filled with incredible excitement. Forty five years of penned up emotions flooded out and I wept for hours with tears of both joy and sadness, Sadness of the reality, that he was dead, joy that he would no longer be 8,000 miles away buried alone in an unmarked grave. I missed my father but was elated that I would finally have the opportunity to say goodbye and place flowers upon his grave.
It was not much later that all that elation turned to utter disappointment, Within a few days a firestorm of controversy ensued, Vietnamese officials wanted my sister Patty, to leave the country immediately. Patty refused and became uncooperative forcing JPAC to suspend the excavation, citing safety concerns for my sister. The U.S. Government and JPAC stated emphatically that my father's remains were never recovered. JPAC suspended all excavations at the site after my sister’s refusal to leave. Patty insists she was an eyewitness to the Vietnamese Government’s recovery of O’Grady’s remains along with his ID tags. Vietnamese officials continue to completely deny that our father was found. JPAC and other U.S. government officials insist that any excavation at the site was suspended at the initial stages of the excavation process. No further excavation has been reinstated, though it has been 16 months since they halted the search. This is an outrage, where is my father? Are theses repercussions because my sister was disruptive and refused to leave? There is a widow and six other children that have waited 45 years for answers, they want their father home and the closure they desperately seek.
What frightens me is now I may never know the fate of my father, the government can’t embarrass itself now and claim they found him back in May. If he was not found, as JPAC claims,they may no longer have access to the site because of the discord my sister created with a foreign nation. The Vietnamese, a communist country, may be so appalled by my sister’s audacious defiance that they may have just discarded Colonel O’Grady’s remains. Sadly, I fear my dad may be lost forever and the closure I so desperately sought may never happen. I hope and pray that I am wrong, but as time passes the more my hopes fade. It has been a roller coaster of emotions for myself and other O’Grady family members, Haven’t we endured enough? Must this journey end this way?
His remains may be lost forever, far away in a a foreign land. My father may have been discarded, like trash, to avoid any embarrassment or disgrace to either government. It has been 45 years of unanswered questions and living with the unknown. Today as I write this, it is POW/MIA Recognition Day, I still cling to hope that his remains will be returned but the turmoil has taken a great toll on me. In order to sustain through these trying times, I think of him as Already Here, everywhere, his presence surrounding me with love.
What a shameful act if after he made the ultimate sacrifice his remains were discovered and yet never returned and repatriated.