Eagle Profile

Joe O’Grady led one of the most crucial USAF missions of the Cold War! O’Grady was born in Huntington, Arkansas in April 1921, but grew up in Amarillo, Texas. After one year of college, he joined the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in 1942. He first flew the Stearman PT-13 Kaydet and then the Vultee BT-13 Valiant. He earned his pilot wings and a commission in 1944. Assigned to Luke Field, Arizona, he instructed in the North American AT-6 Texan and the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. After the war, he served as a legal officer in Guam and Japan. He stayed current flying the Douglas B-26 Invader, Curtiss C-46 Commando, and the Douglas C-47 Skytrain .

Shortly after the start of the Korean War, O’Grady flew the first whole blood into the combat zone. In August 1950, he was assigned to the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron flying the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star. In 1951, O’Grady returned to the states, and instructed at Bryan AFB, Texas. He flew the North American T-28 Trojan and the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star until he was selected to attend Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama in the summer of 1956. After ACSC, he checked out in the North American F-100 Super Sabre and then was sent to France, where he became Operations Officer for the 9th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. O’Grady’s career took a new direction, when he took command of the 302nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS) at Laon AB, France. He flew the Republic RF-84 Thunderflash from June 1958 to June 1960.

Next, O’Grady commanded the 29th TRS at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. He flew the new McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo. As the Soviets prepared to deploy nuclear missiles to Cuba, O’Grady made history when he led a low-level recce mission over the island and confirmed deployment of surface-to-air missiles. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and was later featured in Life magazine. In January 1963, O’Grady became Air Force Advisor to the Alabama Air National Guards 106th TRS. He also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from the University of Alabama.

In 1966, O’Grady went to Vietnam and became Deputy Director at the III Corps Direct Air Support Center near Saigon. While in Southeast Asia, he flew the Douglas A-1 Skyraider with the Vietnamese Air Force. Next, at Maxwell AFB, he worked on Corona Harvest, a special project to document lessons learned in the war. Colonel O’Grady retired in April 1970 after a distinguished career. He returned to Birmingham and had a second career in sales. Today, after accumulating more than 8,800 flying hours, including over 700 in combat, O’Grady recently stopped flying, but is active in the Quiet Birdmen (QBs), a fraternal order of aviators.

Years Honored:


1997 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

On 29 October 1962, Lt. Col. Joe O'Grady crossed the coast inbound over Castros Cuba. It was a critical moment in the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, in the Cold War. At tree top level in the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo, he photographed a known surface-to-air missile site and then discovered a second, previously unknown site. His historic film also recorded Cuban anti-aircraft fire! Mission debriefings quickly carried him up the chain of command, and, finally to the office of the President, John F. Kennedy.