Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2012, Pages 54-55

Human Rights

Remembering the USS Liberty

USS Liberty survivors (l-r) Wayne Hilldebrand, Terry McFarland, Bill Casper, Cal Landis and Dave Miller pay tribute to their fallen shipmates. (Staff photo D. Sprusansky)

On June 7, dozens of people gathered in Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Israel's 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, in which 34 crewmen were killed and 171 wounded. Survivors Cal Landis, Wayne Hilldebrand, Terry McFarland, Jim Smith, Richard Brooks, Dave Miller, Frank O'Classen, Dave Lucas and Bill Casper, as well as friends, family and supporters, attended the ceremony.

The ceremony began promptly at noon on a warm, sunny day. Navy chaplain Lt. Jonathan Craig led an opening prayer. Survivor Jim Smith then began the ceremony by explaining the purpose of the annual memorial service: "We must not and will not ever forget the brave men of the USS Liberty," he explained. The veterans who were present then commenced an emotional roll call of the men who were killed in the attack. Each survivor placed a flag on the grave where six of the men killed that day are buried together. Smith concluded the ceremony with a quote by President John F. Kennedy: "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."

"Thank you for sharing in this remembrance," Smith added.

The ceremony reflected the evolution of the American perception of the incident. Friends, family and veterans spoke openly about what is widely viewed as a cover-up and is, at the very least, an example of extreme negligence on the part of the United States Navy. While the official U.S. government position remains that Israel's attack was accidental, many find that conclusion unacceptable and unbelievable. Patricia Blue-Rousakis, whose young husband, a linguist onboard the Liberty, was killed in the attack, said, "I never believed it for a second."

Pat Blue's own personal experience with the cover-up began almost immediately. She called the National Security Agency (NSA) after hearing news of an attack on a U.S. ship from a radio in Farragut Park in downtown Washington, DC. The NSA dispatched men to pick her up and bring her home. "From the time when they picked me up, they [the NSA agents] stayed for a month," Blue recalled. "They answered the phone, the door."

The newspapers did not investigate the attack either, Blue said. "By 7 o'clock that evening the newspapers were already saying it was a case of mistaken identity."

Blue bore the burden of her experience on her own for nearly 30 years because her husband technically was not in the Navy. "I said not one word about it for 30 years," she confessed. One day in 1995 she came across an article in the Navy's Proceedings Magazine about the attack on the Liberty. "It haunted me," she said, describing the impact that the article had on her life. "After that I went online, saw the Web site (www.ussliberty.org) and thought, 'oh, my God, I can't believe this.'" The continued support and solidarity of the USS Liberty community changed Pat Blue's life. "That saved me," she said thankfully.

Cal Landis, a survivor of the Liberty attack, summed up the day well. The memorial service, he said, "gives us a chance to honor those who died." With regard to the Navy's handling of investigations into the incident, Landis admitted, "I've got some hard feelings." But he was optimistic about the increasing public awareness about the incident, saying, "It's coming out more and more."

And it appears Landis is correct. In addition to reporters, congressional staff members from the offices of Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) attended the ceremony for the first time. A member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was there as well. It is indeed a sign of progress—but as Pat Blue pointed out, "The politicians aren't going to touch this."

Perhaps the growing attendance and recognition of the 45th anniversary USS Liberty memorial service is a sign of things to come. American politicians may be more inclined to support a thorough congressional investigation of the incident and bring justice for the 34 sailors who died that day. Josie Toth Linen, whose brother died in the Israeli attack, summed up the overall sentiment of the group when she declared, "It was not an accidental attack."

—Keenan Duffey