Book Review: Return with Honor

Captain Scott O’Grady is best known as the F-16 pilot shot down during Operation Deny Flight over the former Yugoslavia in 1995.  He survived for five and a half days — during which no one even knew he was alive — before being rescued.  Upon his return home he was declared a hero, a title he eschewed and passed on to the Marines who lifted him to safety.

The book details the mission from his arrival at work until the missile took his jet out from under him; it then describes the days he spent on the ground hoping for a rescue.  Interspersed are back stories of his life and his family back in the US as they learned of his shootdown.  The retelling of the organization of the rescue effort and its subsequent execution — which was completed about 5 hours after the initial radio contact — is well done.

Regrettably, O’Grady became a victim of a media and public that wanted a hero.  The attention heaped upon him was embarrassing for him (the book’s tone and content is evidence of his humility) and also opened him up to grief from his fellow fighter pilots–particularly since he made many mistakes after his shootdown.  (Had he not returned, his peers may have reserved their criticisms, but with his safe arrival–and the subsequent detailed book, which included many of the mistakes he made–his peers provided blunt criticisms for which fighter pilots are famous.)

Return with Honor is a quick and easy read, and is written at a level that people not familiar with the fighter pilot mission will understand.  He does freely document his mistakes, though at times he glosses over them and those unfamiliar with the mission may not notice.  Those interested in the conduct of a fighter pilot mission may be interested by the particular detail he goes into regarding the preparation and execution of the mission in which he would ultimately be shot down.  The book is a narrative, however, and does not contain technical or tactical descriptions of the events.

O’Grady’s faith is also central to the book.  He recounts the many prayers he said during his endeavor, as well as the influence it had on his future spiritual growth.  The book indicates a devout Catholic theology, including his prayers to deceased relatives and the Mother of Medjugorje.  More recent interviews have indicated that O’Grady has become a member of a Texas Baptist Church, and he graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (a conservative evangelical school) in 2007.

Recommended.  Though the story is now nearly 14 years old, the book provides an interesting and insightful look into both the life of a fighter pilot and the role that his faith played in his ordeal.  It is an easy read and the book is cheaply available.  The theology and some of his choices after his ejection should be understood for what they are.  The story is also told in his other book,  Basher Five-Two, which is described as a “children’s book.”

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