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Capt. Scott O'Grady flashes a wide smile and snaps into a pose by the cockpit of an F-16 jet - not the plane he flies, but the one in the hangar next to the American flag.

The one that makes a better photo.He knows about those things now.

O'Grady's a natural Air Force poster boy. But if you call him that, the affable 30-year-old bristles.

He promotes the Air Force because he wants to, understand? Not because he's anyone's shill.

The Air Force no longer controls his public appearances anyway, not since he left active duty five months after crawling out of the muddy forests of Bosnia into instant fame.

The story was thrilling - an American pilot, shot down over hostile territory, survives by eating bugs and grass and drinking rain water for six days until he's rescued.

Fame and adulation came as soon as he was rescued one year ago this month, with television appearances, a best-selling book titled "Return With Honor," even a stint introducing war movies shown on TNT. A movie and a children's book about his experience are planned.

But O'Grady has learned about the downside to celebrity.

His abrupt retirement caused some to see him as a self-promoter, a flesh-and-blood recruiting poster on the make. It is a perception the Spokane, Wash., native admits has made him feel defensive and misunderstood.

"This guy at Time magazine reported it like I was bailing out. He reported that I was leaving the military. He also used in derogatory terms that I was a fly boy and a poster boy for the Air Force," O'Grady fumed recently. "I didn't leave the military. I just moved to a different part of the military."

O'Grady says he was planning to join the Air Force Reserve even before he was shot down because staying on active duty would have meant eventually leaving the cockpit. Now, working 10 to 15 days a month, he can keep flying his entire career.

Other pilots regard O'Grady as just another member of the team, said Major Ali Frohlich, an active-duty officer at Hill Air Force Base.

"His persona is not the type to act like a celebrity," Frohlich said.

While many of the part-time pilots in his unit work other jobs, O'Grady gives dozens of speeches, many for charities.

He gets a standard day's pay for Air Force-sponsored events, which he does because he wants to correct what he believes are unfair, negative impressions of the military.

For others, he unapologetically takes a fee: "Will I do a speaking engagement for IBM for free? Absolutely not."

O'Grady won't say what he's paid for his speeches but claims he isn't getting rich. He still lives in a two-bedroom apartment and drives the same old pickup. He is single, dates a couple of women, but won't otherwise discuss his personal life.

O'Grady's younger brother, Paul, a 26-year-old dental student at the University of North Carolina, thought his brother was the shy one in the family - until he saw Scott's first television interview.

"I was shocked, how well he could speak," he said.

But Paul isn't worried the attention has spoiled the brother he always looked up to. "He hasn't let a lot of this go to his head. When he does, we've had to kind of knock him back down."

O'Grady believes much of the initial interest in his story was a result of all the depressing news that had been dominating the headlines: the O.J. Simpson case, Waco and the Oklahoma bombing.

But a year after his rescue, he is getting just as many requests for appearances, which surprises him.

O'Grady doesn't take his fame lightly. He says he is disgusted by athletes and rock stars who make spectacles of themselves with outlandish, indulgent lifestyles.

For O'Grady, that's not what fame is for.

"Whether you deserve it or not, you have a responsibility to act in a decent manner. And then when you benefit, work to benefit others."

To that end, O'Grady has endorsed two charities - the Make a Wish Foundation and St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis. He also gives three or four speeches a month at local elementary schools.

To hear him tell it, the mantle of hero is not an easy fit for O'Grady, who is careful to stress he does not fit his own definition of the word.

"A teacher helping students, parents helping their children learn right from wrong - that's what a hero is," he says. "The only person I helped was myself by surviving."