Last Wednesday at noon at Arlington National Cemetery I attended the annual commemorative gathering of the survivors and friends of the U.S.S. Liberty. The moving service included the ringing of a ship’s bell for each one of the thirty-four American sailors, Marines and civilians that were killed in the deliberate Israeli attack that sought to sink the intelligence gathering ship and kill all its crew. Present were a number of surviving crewmembers as well as veterans like myself and other Americans who are committed to ensuring that the story of the Liberty will not die in hopes that someday the United States government will have the courage to acknowledge what actually happened on that fateful day.
It was the forty-ninth anniversary of the attack. In truth the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, has almost faded from memory, with a younger generation completely unaware that a United States naval vessel was once deliberately attacked and nearly sunk by America’s “greatest friend and ally” Israel. The attack was followed by a cover-up that demonstrated clearly that at least one president of the United States even back nearly fifty years ago valued his relationship with the state of Israel above his loyalty to his own country.
It was in truth the worst attack ever carried out on a U.S. Naval vessel in peace time. In addition to the death toll, 171 more of the crew were wounded in the two-hour assault, which was clearly intended to destroy the intelligence gathering vessel operating in international waters collecting information on the ongoing Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Israelis, whose planes had their Star of David markings covered up so Egypt could be blamed, attacked the ship repeatedly from the air and with gunboats from the sea.
The incredible courage and determination of the surviving crew was the only thing that kept the Liberty from sinking. The ship’s commanding officer Captain William McGonagle was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic role in keeping the ship afloat, though President Lyndon Baines Johnson broke with tradition and refused to hold the medal ceremony in the White House, also declining to award it personally, delegating that task to the Secretary of the Navy in a closed to the public presentation made at the Washington Navy Yard. The additional medals given to other crew members in the aftermath of the attack made the U.S.S. Liberty the most decorated ship based on a single engagement with hostile forces in the history of the United States Navy.
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