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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Pages 56-57

Human Rights

USS Liberty Memorial Unveiled in Rochester

John Hrankowski (inset), at the unveiling of the USS Liberty monument in Rochester, NY. (Photos N. Switzer)

ON JUNE 12, 2010, people gathered in Rochester, NY to honor and dedicate a memorial to the USS Liberty and pay tribute to the men who served in the United States Navy aboard the intelligence ship. Michael Skowronski, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, put it eloquently when he said: "The sacrifices they made and the deeds they performed are written in history and shall remain alive in our memories for generations to come. We sincerely express our pride and gratitude for tasks they fulfilled."

The USS Liberty was stationed off the Sinai Peninsula when Israel attacked Egypt in June 1967, launching the Six-Day War. While steaming approximately 17 miles off the coast of Gaza, flying the U.S. ensign, it was suddenly attacked by Israeli forces on June 8, 1967. Of a crew of 294, the USS Liberty lost 34 men, with another 174 wounded in action. Only 88 survived physically unscathed, but even they still retain lifelong emotional scars. The Liberty, with no armament aboard, was not a threat to anyone, yet Israel brutally and continuously attacked the vessel with rockets, cannons and napalm for 11 hours. With a 39-foot-wide gash in the ship's starboard side, and 821 shell holes, the ship was miraculously saved by its crew. The USS Liberty was the most decorated ship since WWII, and perhaps the most decorated for a single attack in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Dignitaries were in Rochester to honor this day but to especially honor one of the USS Liberty crewmen, John Hrankowski, who has dedicated his life to asking Americans to investigate the Israeli attack and subsequent coverup and remember those who were killed. Everyone who spoke at the podium thanked John for his sacrifices, not only on the day of the infamous attack, but for his continuous efforts to educate the country on the fate of the USS Liberty.

Many of the crew members and their families who were attending an annual reunion in Long Island—including survivor Dennis Eikleberry and the family of CT John Smith, who was killed in the attack—came to pay tribute not only to the memorial, but to honor their comrade Hrankowski.

Said keynote speaker Capt. Steven Momano, USN-Ret.: "For the ship's survivors, today is a day to remember, to mourn, and to reflect on their lost shipmates who remain to them eternally youthful and vigilant. This has not always been easy for them or for us, because there are no tombstones in the sea, no markers or places for us to pay our respects or grieve for our lost friends and loved ones. As the saying goes, we can only visit them in our hearts and in our dreams. That is why this memorial is so important. If, in some small way, we can keep alive the memory of the men who perished on June 8, 1967, we will have kept faith with them and their loved ones, whose rallying cry, 'Remember the Liberty,' remains as strong as ever."

With that, the unveiling took place, followed by the gun salute and then the taps. "May God bless the men of the USS Liberty, and may God bless the United States of America," attendees concluded.

This monument was dedicated by the Thomas F. Healy Post 16, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Rochester, New York.

Nancy S. Switzer