USS LIBERTY Anniversary by Henry Holt

Forty years ago today,8 June,1330 local time, the State of Israel began an attempt to destroy the United States Ship LIBERTY.
LIBERTY was a converted WW2 cargo ship operating in International Waters monitoring communications between the combatants of Israel,and Egypt,Syria and Jordan off the coast of Egypt's Siani during what was to become known as the Six Day War.
I planned to write only six to eight lines in tribute to those who died on LIBERTY but I found the memories too strong to stop.
I was assigned to the staff of the 6th Fleet Commander and heard LIBERTY cry for help on open radio circuits.Vadm Martin immediately called for an opinion from all his Department Heads. All said launch defending planes from AMERICA and FORESTAL then steaming in company about 400 miles north of LIBERTY. One added"Tell the Russian spy ship watching us what we are doing."
It was a proud moment watching both aircraft carriers launch six to eight planes but a very sad moment to see all planes return too soon when President Johnson ordered a recall.
The 6th Fleet ships steamed at near full power during the night to join on LIBERTY the next morning,and the Flagship circled LIBERTY slowly.Except for movie and TV screens I have never seen such destruction. Not in Vietnam,not any place.
It was two days later I learned a friend,Phillip Armstrong, was among the 32 sailors killed. He lived next door at Annapolis and was much nicer to Plebes than many other Upperclassmen.My Plebe year roommate,David Lewis,was badly injured.He was among the 177 injured.
Two weeks later I walked the rim of the dry dock in Malta where LIBERTY was being repaired enough for return home for decomissioning and sale for scrap metal.I especially remember the forty foot hole at the water line made by an American manufactured torpedo and most especially the smell of debris being pushed out of the hole to the floor of the dry dock. Even now I am reminded by road kill on a hot day.
Ten years later I was helping the Egyptian Navy Commander In Chief fix a car electric window and I asked him about LIBERTY. He said he was on duty at the Alexandria Naval Base and they knew Israel had been watching LIBERTY for several hours and they were amazed Israel attacked the ship. Indeed,they feared they would be blamed for the attack.
Why did Israel attack LIBERTY? We on the Flag Ship thought and I still do,think Israel did it to prevent anybody knowing they were about to attack Syria's Golan Heights,an important goal because Syria had been sending rockets into northern Israel for a long time,and Israel had said publically they would accept a UN brokered Cease Fire.They took a long shot chance they could eliminate LIBERTY,immediately say "Mistake!" and avoid significant punishment.For 40 years it has been mostly so.
Even so,I do not belive it is a nice thing to attack the ship of a friend who pays many of your bills with AFA (American Foreign Aid) provides more private money and makes available our best weapons systems.plus direct military aid.
A 19th century British Prime Minister said "Diplomacy is not about friends,only National Interests.Somebody else said "War is diplomacy by another means."
Henry Holt
Captain,USN Retired

No comments: