Dear Senator Jesse Helms, I can only ask if maybe the press again missed your wry wit when they reported that you had called the rescue of Air Force Captain Scott F. O’Grady “something out of a storybook.” I agree. It had everything but Lassie greeting the chopper. Marines landed 50 meters from him. (What miraculous precision.) Bosnian Serb officials claimed they captured the pilot. U.N. special envoy Yasushi Akashi says there was information the Serbs had the pilot. American military sources tried to make “third-hand” contacts with Bosnian Serbs through the United Nations. Then CNN reported from Bosnia that the Serbs had not captured the pilot. Hmmm.

Asked why it had taken six days for O’Grady to transmit to his NATO rescuers, Admiral Leighton Smith speculated that it could have been because of bad weather. Had O’Grady’s radio been taken away by his captors and later returned after a deal was struck?

The media informed the public that the F-16C was shot down near Banja Luka. A parachute was seen 25 miles southwest at the Serb town of Mrkonjie Grad. OK, but our pilot was picked up 12 miles from Bihac, a distance of 60 miles from where he reportedly landed. Someone must have given him a lift.

The storybook story seems calculated to restore faith in our top guns, to downgrade the danger our pilots face from the Serbs’ air defenses, in sum to grease the way to launch an attack that will take us into war. Please call on me if your staff could use some competent advice outside the usual channels.