The first to stand up and embrace veterans are politicians and government officials. Somehow, doing so almost makes the 95 percent of elected US officials who avoided military service look good.
But one group of veterans is vilified, marginalized, attacked and ignored: The 294 men who served on a US Navy technical research ship that was stationed in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967, when it was viciously attacked by jets and cruisers. The USS Liberty stayed afloat despite nearly two hours of strafing and bombing.
The crew held their fire and tried to alert the attackers that they were openly flying a US flag and were not engaged in any military threats. The attack killed 34 crew members, all US citizens and decorated military servicemen. Another 174 were seriously wounded. The attack was launched by America’s “ally” Israel. Ever since, both Israel and its American political defenders have blocked numerous efforts to highlight it.
Prominent US politicians who have libelled the Liberty veterans by denying their heroic, defensive conduct include Sen. John McCain, whose father was a navy admiral who tried to protect Israel by covering up details of the attack.
Instead of being lionized at Veteran’s Day ceremonies or during national holidays, they are demonized and denounced as “anti-Semites” simply because they have challenged Israel’s propaganda, which asserts falsely that it made a mistake. This was the case this past week in a city in Florida called Palm Coast, where it was proposed that “Heroes Park” include, among existing memorials for US veterans, a small plaque commemorating those of the Liberty.
The park district approved the plaque, especially since one of the Liberty survivors, Ernest Gallo, has lived in Palm Coast for 15 years. Communities with veterans living among them are usually proud to showcase them. Yet for some unexplained reason, the city council not only voted to block placement of the plaque at “Heroes Park,” but also limited public discussion about the commemoration.
The US has numerous holidays to honor those who served in the military, and veterans are treated with great respect. Those who served on the USS Liberty in 1967 are the exception, because the attacking forces belonged to Israel.
I emailed the mayor to ask why she rejected the plan, but got no response. No major news media had the courage to report on the snub of American veterans. Only because of the efforts of an online blog was I able to find an article about what happened. Politicians in this Florida community decided that these veterans did not deserve recognition.
It is unheard of for US veterans to be treated so disrespectfully. Those of the Liberty are the exception because the attacking forces belonged to Israel. For the past 50 years, the National Security Agency (NSA) has kept much of the Liberty files classified, save for two documents that were released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Gallo authored several books recounting the attack, including “Liberty Injustices: A Survivor’s Account of American Bigotry.” Others, including author Eileen Fleming and Liberty survivor Phillip Tourney, have also written extensively about the attack.
But much of the writing on this subject has been funded by Israel, libelling the Liberty survivors as if they had betrayed America, and distorting the facts so badly that a Palm Coast official referred to the attack as “an incident” in which “a bomb exploded.”
As a US veteran myself who served during the Vietnam War, I am ashamed at how easily Americans can be brainwashed into hating their own soldiers, for the benefit of a powerful foreign country that gives our elected officials a lot of money to keep their morality and principles in check.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American columnist and author. Email him at [email protected]