Naval History not just something to read about

Liberty Park, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, is dedicated to the honor and memory of the 34 brave American Sailors who gave their lives in June 1967 defending the American Intelligence vessel, USS Liberty. (Courtesy photo)

Liberty Park, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, is dedicated to the honor and memory of the 34 brave American Sailors who gave their lives in June 1967 defending the American Intelligence vessel, USS Liberty. (Courtesy photo)

USS Liberty’s original brass ship’s plate and Liberty Park dedication. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luis Loza Gutierrez)

USS Liberty’s original brass ship’s plate and Liberty Park dedication. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luis Loza Gutierrez)

The USS Liberty is left listing to starboard after a sustained air and sea attack July 8, 1967. (Courtesy photo)

The USS Liberty is left listing to starboard after a sustained air and sea attack July 8, 1967. (Courtesy photo)

The USS Liberty is left listing to starboard after a sustained air and sea attack July 8, 1967. (Courtesy photo)

The USS Liberty is left listing to starboard after a sustained air and sea attack July 8, 1967. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Liberty Park is dedicated to the memory of 34 Sailors who gave their lives on June 8, 1967, defending the USS Liberty against sustained air and sea attack by the armed forces of Israel. The park includes an original brass plaque from the USS Liberty, and other various Navy-unique items such as deck guns, propeller, mast flagpole and anchor. Liberty Park is located next to the Navy Headquarters on Vance Street and is available to view at any time.

The USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship with 294 men aboard, arrived near the Gaza Strip in the Eastern Mediterranean at 9 a.m. June 8, 1967. The mission of the ship was very specific in the collection of intelligence against a particular adversary's assets in a nearby country (not Israeli or any other ally). This was the fourth day of the Arab-Israeli war later to be known as "The Six Day War." At this point in the conflict, the Israeli forces had already ceased control of contested areas and were in cleanup mode against retreating Arab forces. The Liberty was thought to be in little to no danger and had no combatant escort. The ship was attacked for 75 minutes in international waters by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Thirty-four men died and 174 were wounded.

The battle damage was significant and she managed to stay afloat only through the heroic efforts of the crew. The ship suffered tremendous torpedo damage from the attacking boats, most of which was well below the waterline. The Mirage and Mystyre jets laid down unrelenting waves of both rocket and cannon fire, taking a major toll above decks on both personnel and equipment. As if that was not enough for the sailors to contend with, the Mystyre pilots also released napalm canisters that unleashed a burning hell upon the decks and in any hole the fiery gel found.

The attack has been a matter of great controversy ever since. Survivors and many key government officials including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, former Joint Chief of Staffs chairman Adm. Thomas Moorer, and nearly every senior American intelligence professional say it was no accident. Israel states it was a "tragic case of misidentification".

Quotes from key leaders of the time:

"I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous."-- Secretary of State Dean Rusk

"...the board of inquiry (concluded) that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty." -- CIA Director Richard Helms

"I can tell you for an absolute certainty (from intercepted communications) that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship." -- NSA Deputy Director Oliver Kirby

Israel holds to the official statement that they mistook our ship for the out-of-service Egyptian horse carrier El Quseir and that the ship was operating in a war zone without displaying a flag. The facts show that the Liberty was in international waters, far from any fighting, and flew a bright and clean American flag. The flag that was flying when the torpedo boats approached is on display in the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland. The flag flown during most of the air attack is permanently displayed at the Cold War Museum near Washington, D.C.

The commanding officer of the USS Liberty, Capt. William McGonagle, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty during the attack.