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Capt. O'Grady Begins a New Chapter in His Life

November 17, 1995|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The story of Capt. Scott O'Grady, shot down over Bosnia and retrieved by the Marines six days later, has long since run dry as news. But as drama, the episode of last June has lost none of its power.

O'Grady recounts his ordeal in the newly published "Return With Honor" (Doubleday), which reads at times like a Tom Clancy thriller.

One minute O'Grady is enforcing the no-fly zone over war-torn Bosnia and then his F-16 is cut in half by a surface-to-air missile fired by the Serbs below. The flaming impact "slows" his speed to 350 m.p.h., and he's five miles high in the sky when he ejects into the terrifying unknown.

It takes 25 minutes for O'Grady's parachute to reach the ground, followed by six lonely days of eluding capture and living off the land, before he makes the radio contact that brings in the Marines: "This is Basher Five-Two . . . I'm alive, I'm alive!"

Amid the euphoria that greeted O'Grady's precision-perfect rescue from the presumed dead, the media repeatedly called him a hero. It's a label he wears awkwardly.

"I didn't do anything but react to a situation that I was placed in," he said during a visit to New York last week. "The only life that I saved was my own. If you talk about heroes, what about the guys who came in to get me? They knew what they were up against, they knew what they had to do. I only had to react to it."

Five months after eating bugs and leaves on the run, after drinking rainwater wrung from his woolen socks, he is not asking the cosmic question: Why me?

"It could have been anybody," he said. "I don't even dwell on it. You don't expect a lot of things to happen in your life. I didn't expect this to happen. I can't change what happened--and I don't know what's going to happen to me in the future."

In a few weeks, O'Grady, now 30, will climb back into the cockpit of another F-16, this time as part of an Air Force Reserve combat squadron, centered at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City. "I'm just going to be myself and continue to live a normal life once all of this media attention is over," he said.

Given his lively tale, written with Jeff Coplon, it's not surprising that a movie version is under discussion.

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On the Racks: Pat Barker's "The Ghost Road," which last week won Britain's Booker Prize for 1995, is being moved up seven months on Dutton's schedule. The novel will be available in the United States by Dec. 1. It's the concluding work in the author's highly praised trilogy about World War I. The Booker is Britain's most prestigious literary honor and all but guarantees a big jump in sales in that country. Barker, 52, is the first woman to receive the Booker since A. S. Byatt took a bow for "Possession" five years ago.. . . .

A quest for newsstand gold clearly is behind Newsweek's release this week of a special stand-alone issue with Elizabeth Hurley on the cover.

"100 Newsmakers of 1995" costs $3.95 (a buck more than regular Newsweek). This first-time issue essentially extends to breezy, magazine-length the short and People-like "Newsmakers" section found in the newsweekly, reprising a year's worth of important and not-so-important stories.

In the latter category is a puffy page on Hurley, the understanding companion of naughty Hugh Grant ("She is, at heart, a middle-class girl . . . who eats her fried eggs and bacon with ketchup"), and a short reminder that this was the year that Sen. Alfonse D'Amato really did hold a news conference to declare his love for his girlfriend, gossip reporter Claudia Cohen. Distribution: 700,000 copies.

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Afterwords: An authorized biography of Selena, the late Mexican-American singer, is in the works at Delacorte Press.

Members of Selena's family are cooperating with the author, novelist Victor Villasenor. Delacorte plans to publish a bilingual edition next March, the first anniversary of Selena's murder. Interest in printed remembrances was demonstrated soon after the singer's death, when Pocket Books rushed out its own bilingual title, Clint Richmond's "Selena: The Phenomenal Life and Tragic Death of the Tejano Music Queen," a paperback that became a national bestseller with 600,000 copies now reported in print. . . .

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Two months after the endlessly hyped debut of George, the new political magazine co-founded by John F. Kennedy Jr. boasts that its premiere issue sold out on newsstands. In the first week, 93% of the initial 500,000-copy print run was sold, the mag says. . . .

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Remember the name: Jacquelyn Mitchard. The columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who also writes for Parenting magazine and TV Guide, has sold the film rights to her first novel, "The Deep End of the Ocean," in a deal worth up to $1 million. The buyers were Michelle Pfeiffer's production company, Via Rosa, and Mandalay Entertainment. Mitchard's tale of a child's disappearance at his mother's high school reunion will be published by Viking in July. . . .

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Vibe, the music-and-culture magazine founded by Quincy Jones and aimed at young readers with an urban sensibility, has been encouraged by audience response to take a big leap in the circulation that it will guarantee advertisers. Beginning with the February issue, Vibe's so-called rate base will jump to 400,000 copies (from the current 275,000).

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays.

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