Name: John Francis O'Grady 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
Takhli Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 31 August 1929
Home of Record: New Hyde Park, NY 
Date of Loss: 10 April 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 175000N 1054600E (WE795662) 
Click coordinates to view (4)  maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105D "Thunderchief"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a "Thud." It was the first supersonic tactical fighter-bomber designed from scratch and the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. Easily recognized by its large bomb bay and unique swept-forward engine inlets located in the wing roots, it was mass-produced after the Korean War. The first Thud to exceed the speed of sound did so on 22 October 1955 in spite of its underpowered Pratt & Whitney J57 stop-gap engine. Production of the F-105 finished in 1965 with the tandem-seat F model, which was designed as a Wild-Weasel Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) attack aircraft. The F-105 served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.

The mission identifier was Steel Tiger, Cricket Area 4," a region that included the portion of North Vietnam bordering Laos that included the Mu Gia Pass, one of the two primary gateways into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail via Route 15. Between 17 April 1965 and 31 December 1971, 43 American airmen were lost and listed as POW/MIAs in a 33.3-mile square window of the world known as the Mu Gia Pass. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

On April 10, 1967, then Maj. John F. O'Grady was the pilot of an F105D (serial #62-4357), call sign "Newark 03," that was the number three aircraft in a flight of four conducting an armed reconnaissance mission against lucrative enemy targets of opportunity in the vicinity of the Mu Gia Pass. The other members of the flight were Major Walter L. Catron, Newark 01; Major Stanley M. Dunkle, Newark 02; and Capt. John W. Bischoff, Newark 04. Newark flight was the second element in a much larger strike package. The overall mission commander and senior officer in the flight was Col. Jack Broughton, who was also the Deputy Wing Commander of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Weather conditions included scattered clouds with bases at 5,000 feet and visibility of 5 to 6 miles. The entire area was also covered in haze. Winds were variable from the southwest.

After refueling from an airborne tanker, all aircraft arrived in the target area without incident. Col. Broughton immediately established radio contact with the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC), call sign "Crown," and received instructions for each element to commence its mission as briefed. Newark flight separated into pairs with Newark 01 and 02 taking one sector of the assigned route while Newark 03 and 04 took the other. Major O'Grady flew over the location he eventually bombed, but elected to continue to the northern end of his sector in order to search the entire route for possible targets. When he swung back over the original target, John O'Grady set up his element and rolled in from an altitude of 14,000 feet with his wingman 20 seconds to his rear. Because he did not like his alignment to the target, Major O'Grady decided he would do better with another try. He aborted his first run and rolled in behind his wingman for a second attack pass, which was also his third exposure to enemy gunners.

At roughly the same time that Major O'Grady released his bombs, his aircraft was struck by intense and accurate anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. John O'Grady managed to pull the Thud's nose up in order to climb for altitude and flew a short distance before the aircraft's controls froze forcing him to eject at an altitude of approximately 7,000 feet. Other flight members heard his Mayday call, then in a calm voice state, "Losing control, got to get out." At first none of the pilots could locate Major O'Grady's aircraft or parachute, but did witness his bombs land directly on target. Scanning the skies, Capt. Bischoff, the pilot of Newark 04, located John O'Grady's parachute 4 to 5 miles southwest of the target as it descended toward the ground over a 4 to 7-minute period of time. Capt. Bischoff also noted that the prevailing wind was causing him to drift back to the northeast and directly into the strike area.

Col. Broughton arrived on-site to take control of RESCAP (Rescue Combat Air Patrol) for the search and rescue (SAR) aircraft. When the first A1E Skyraiders arrived, Jack Broughton and his wingman were flying bottom cover. He gave the SAR personnel the coordinates as well as a verbal description of John O'Grady's position. The SAR pilot and Col. Broughton decided the best way to determine if rescue was feasible or necessary was for him to take a close look at the spot where John O'Grady landed. According to Col. Broughton, part one of the plan was "for all aircraft to fly west a few miles. The Skyraider could stay on the deck with his slower aircraft and turn in toward the spot while I lit my afterburner and pull my element up several thousand feet as I did a wingover to the left to line up with the road. The combination of the burner noise and the up and over maneuver was calculated to get their attention, and then we could roll in and race down the road with our cannons blazing while the A1E came in on the treetops."

Col. Broughton went on describing part two the plan, "Halfway down the road, and about at the spot we had seen John, I would light my afterburner again and do another wingover and come back down the road shooting up the south side as I passed the spot and broke north for the cover of the hills. We executed the maneuver, and (on the first pass) as I approached firing range, I noticed that the hills sloped rather abruptly upward on both sides of the road, making in effect a valley. Small arms, .50 caliber and who knows what all else spit from every rock and ditch along the road and up into the foothills." Jack Broughton continued, "I began to fire and after a few rounds, the gun jammed. I cursed the gun, and I cursed the troops on the ground … (and pressed forward) knowing the Skyraider was behind me doing his part. Around we went for part two and this time I felt like I had a toy airplane flying through real bullets."

Col Broughton added, "The A1E hugged the trees to the north, and I hugged them to the south. Thirty seconds later all the nasty tracers and noise had gone away, (the Skyraider's pilot said) 'There's nobody down there, no sense in losing more birds. We better call it off. Sorry, old man - thanks for the cover.' I concurred, and that was the end of that." At the time the formal search was terminated, John O'Grady was listed Missing in Action.

Col. Broughton reported John O'Grady's parachute disappeared from sight the instant it touched down. He also reported SAR could have recovered Major O'Grady if the wind had not blown him back into enemy hands. The exact location was pinpointed by coordinates and description approximately 1 mile west of Highway 15, 3 miles west of the North Vietnamese/Lao border, 5 miles north of where the pass crossed the border into Laos and 59 miles northwest of Dong Hoi, Tuyen Hoa District, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. Further, while the US Air Force concluded that John O'Grady was "in all probability taken captive," his status was never upgraded to Prisoner of War. Once the rest of the flight returned to Takhli Airbase, intelligence personnel confirmed that John O'Grady's target was a well-organized and heavily armed battalion of NVA regulars moving south through the Pass. They also identified elements of the 280th Air Defense Regiment as the unit that shot him down.

The next day 2 radio broadcasts were intercepted, one from Hanoi and the other from Peking; that detailed the capture of US pilots and identified one province as the one in which O'Grady was shot down. Since he was the only man downed in Quang Binh Province that day and in fact the only pilot lost during that week anywhere in North Vietnam, there was no question who the reports referenced. The intercepted Foreign Broadcasting Information Service (FBIS) report from the a Hanoi Domestic Service said, "The US bandit again sent their warplanes to bomb and strafe a certain number of populated areas in Quang Binh and Ha Tinh Provinces. Sharpening their vigilance and determined to annihilate the aggressors the people and armed forces in Quang Binh and Ha Tinh fought back vigorously and accurately, brought down 4 enemy planes and captured American pilots. On 9 April, Quang Binh shot down 1 plane. On 10 April, Quang Binh again shot down 2 planes. In the evening of the same day, Ha Tinh shot down another. Thus, up to yesterday 10 April, 1,752 US aircraft have been shot down over North Vietnam."

In January 1991, a US field team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) examined Vietnamese archives that presented information about an F-105 that was shot down on 10 April 1967. The log entry presented stated, "the body of the pilot was recovered and buried along route 12." The JTFFA team also interviewed five witnesses, three of whom provided only hearsay information concerning the shoot down and the death of a pilot shortly after capture. Two other witnesses provided first hand accounts of his capture and turnover to a Vietnam People's Army engineer unit and hearsay that he died later. Further, JTFFA team members noted the pilot's death was said to have occurred on 11 April, which was at variance with the documents found in the archives that said the death was on 10 April.

In February 1992, US investigators located the ID card, Geneva Convention card and Restricted Area Access Badge belonging to Major O'Grady. They were also able to interview a former senior officer from the 280th Air Defense Regiment. Verbal information provided to them surmised "Major O'Grady was wounded when captured by local militia and died four hours later." However, no concrete proof of his death was provided to the investigators and no gravesite containing remains was found.

If John O'Grady died as a result of his loss, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, he most certainly would have been captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is no question he had been captured by the North Vietnamese and they could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they proudly served.

John O'Grady graduated from the United States Naval Academy.