Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1990, Page 36, 37
USS Liberty Memorial Library Enjoys Busy First Year
By Carol Grant
One year after a dedication ceremony that threatened to split their community, residents of the village of Grafton, Wisconsin are setting new attendance and book circulation records at a library named in honor of the dead and wounded crew members of an American Navy ship almost sunk by an Israeli air and torpedo boat attack in June 1967. "The USS Liberty Memorial Public Library is alive and well and moving quickly into the 21st century," according to head librarian Art Gutkowski. "Grafton's former library was cramped for space, seated only four patrons and had no tables for reading or research work."
The new library, financed largely by private donations, has 52 seats and 11 tables for adult readers and 16 seats and four tables for children. As Gutkowski put it: "An analogy springs to mind here of a take-out only fast food enterprise replaced by a full service restaurant."
The collection of resource, research and donated books, general reading selections and periodicals continues to be of high quality. Federal and state grants helped pay for costs incurred while retro-converting catalog data into machine-readable form, and will provide materials to serve patrons with special needs, in particular the "talking books" for people with sight difficulties. A local "Friends of the Library" organization has begun to assist with various programs for the public.
The former commanding officer of the USS Liberty, Captain William McGonagle, generously donated to the Gift Fund during a memorial service for crew members last June. His donation and a grant co-funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Wisconsin Humanities Committee have enabled the library to offer "The Library of America," a 60-volume set of writings of major American authors.
Books on the Middle East also are available from all points of view, in keeping with the remark by Joseph Joubert, "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it."
Such a debate raged while the library was under construction over the suggestion by two major donors to the project to name the library in honor of the USS Liberty. The proposal set off attempts, mostly by residents of nearby Milwaukee, to induce residents to change the name. These included unrelenting critical media coverage, picketing during the ground-breaking ceremony, refusal by the school board to permit the high school band to participate, and the refusal of some area clergy and many invited military and federal government officials to attend the village's memorial service for the crew.
Nevertheless, the integrity of the USS Liberty Memorial Library remains intact! We residents of Grafton are proud of the library and grateful to the surviving crew members for their support and to all of our citizens who worked so hard under difficult circumstances to provide our community with an outstanding collection of literature and diverse points of view. In this context, we are all winners!
I think it is appropriate to share the feeling of Ron Kugal, chaplain of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, about the library named after his ship and the village that honored its crew: "All of you in Grafton who stood this test of moral character with unrelenting fortitude will never be forgotten. May God bless the village of Grafton." ❑
Carol Grant, a resident of Grafton, WI is an associate member of the USS Liberty Veterans Association.