CHICAGO: US military veteran survivors of the June 8, 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty communications ship said on Wednesday that they were betrayed and “stabbed in their spine” by US government efforts to protect Israel and suppress details of the unprovoked assault.
Five survivors from the USS Liberty told Arab News that after the nearly two-hour long assault by Israel they were “threatened with imprisonment” if they spoke publicly about the attack, which took the lives of 34 American servicemen and injured 173.
The survivors, all decorated American veterans and now in their seventies, demanded that Congress allow them to testify at a public hearing on what they saw, saying Israel lied when it claimed its assault fighter jets, torpedo boats and attack helicopters did not recognize the Liberty as an American ship even though it was flying the US flag.
Former Liberty naval officer, Larry Bowen, said that the American public “deserves to know the truth” about what happened, not from the bureaucrats or the pro-Israel propagandists who have vilified the survivors and called them “anti-Semitic,” but from the American veterans who survived the Israeli assault.
“What we are all seeking from our government, and that is the truth. They have been covering it up for the past 55 years and there has been evidence come out over the years to prove that no way was it a mistaken identity. So, for me, I would like to see a full Congressional investigation calling on us Liberty veterans to provide testimony so they can get the truth,” said Bowen, president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association. “The Sixth Fleet didn’t come to the aid of the severely damaged Liberty until the next day,” he said.
“After the Sixth Fleet came to our aid the following day, we had an admiral come on board, Admiral Kid, and tell us we were never to talk about it with anyone. He threatened us with fines and imprisonment, or worse, if we did. And that was the story all the way along. Even when I came off the ship, I was flown to Norfolk Virginia for my next assignment and I had a lieutenant commander tell me the same thing, we were not talk to the news press. We were not to talk to our families, friends, relatives. We weren’t to say anything at all about the incident or we would be fined or imprisoned.”
Bowen received a Purple Heart for injuries suffered during the attack, and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his sustained exceptional performance at the time.
The survivors said that Israel’s attack was “brutal and unrelenting.” Israeli fighter jets dropped napalm on the bridge of the ship, and shot life rafts American sailors were trying to use to save wounded shipmates. The ship had 850 cannon rocket holes and was strafed by more than 5,000 armor-piercing bullets.
The attack began at about 2 p.m. off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean Sea. It continued for nearly two hours.
Mickey LeMay, 73, who was a second-class electrician in charge of the electrical department on the Liberty, said that US forces did not come to their rescue until early the next afternoon. They accused the US Navy and Israel of wanting the ship and the evidence of the attack to sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The US was embarrassed and Israel wanted the attack covered up.
“We didn’t get any help from the United States until about 9 or 10 o’clock the next morning. The Russians came alongside and offered us help but nothing from the United States. They wanted us to sink. The American politicians wanted the Liberty sunk. They didn’t even send help from a doctor,” said LeMay, who still has 52 pieces of shrapnel in his body from the attack.
“Except for the Russians. They offered to stand by, and if we sunk they were going to pull the survivors out of the water.”
LeMay said he was ordered by senior officers not to speak about the incident to anyone.
Don Pageler, 76, a communications technician seriously wounded during the Israeli attack, was awarded the Presidential UNIT Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medals and National Defense Medal. He was shocked that no one came to their aid.
“The Navy did try to send us help. Captain Tully, captain of the Saragtoga, said that he had 16 planes, including 12 to 14 fighter bombers, to come to our aid within 15 minutes of giving our distress call but before they were out of sight (of the Saratoga) they were recalled,” Pageler said.
Phil Tourney, who received the Bronze Star for heroism for rescuing wounded shipmates, said that the award he received mentioned the injuries “but not the state that directed the attack, Israel.” The US Government did everything possible to save Israel from blame.
Asked if the US government was built on coverups or built on the constitution, Tourney said: “It’s worse than that. They didn’t just throw us under the bus. Israel and our own government put a knife in our spine. And to all Americans, just not us, but to all Americans, they put a knife in all of your spine by what they got away with. They care less about what happened to the USS Liberty. But we are not going to stop. We are still living. Look at these guys out here. We are old men. Well, these guys are. We are not giving up. We are here for a reason. Our dead shipmates didn’t have a chance to talk but we are talking for them and we will never forget them.”
The survivors said that despite Israel’s claims, the Liberty was flying a 5 x 8 foot American flag and that the Liberty had “all the markings” of an American vessel.
Bowen said that Liberty communications intercepted reports from the Israeli attackers saying that the ship was American, but they were told to continue the assault.
“The attack was intentional. They knew well in advance that we were the USS Liberty,” Bowen said. “There were at least a half dozen overflights early in the morning by the Israelis. It was a deliberate attack. They knew who we were.”
He said there is a conspiracy to cover up what Israel knew and why they attacked, adding that there never was a full or impartial investigation by Congress. The Navy conducted a quick court of inquiry and only interviewed 14 crew members. Anyone who criticized Israel in their testimony, he said, had their testimony redacted to remove criticism that pointed a finger at Israel.
“I think it is important for our American public to realize that Israel has a hold on our government. There is something that Israel is aware of to make it impossible for our congressmen to speak out against them (Israel),” Bowman said.
“We have tried over the past 55 years to go in and talk to various senators and congressmen about getting an investigation. And each time, if they are being honest, they will tell you that AIPAC gets more play than the USS Liberty will ever get because they fund a lot of the congressmen and senators and they will not bite the hand that feeds them. We as a country can’t allow a country like Israel to dictate what we can or can’t do.”
The USS Liberty Veterans Association completed its own report in 2000, which was presented to the US military for review with the request that Israel be charged with war crimes.
“They owe the families, the survivors, and most of all America, an apology. It was treason on the high seas by our own president Lyndon Baines Johnson. If the ship (Liberty) went down they were going to blame it on the Arab countries,” Ron Kukal said.
“We need accountability and transparency now that we haven’t gotten for the past 55 years.”
That request was summarily dismissed.
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