This column is about events so counterintuitive that Hollywood would reject the plot as being too unbelievable. Fifty years ago on June 8th, another nation intentionally attacked a U.S. Navy ship in international waters, and the U.S. didn’t respond.

The attack

The lightly-armed intelligence-gathering U.S. ship was under close observation for at least six hours before an air attack began around 2 pm. The ship was flying a five-by-eight-foot American flag for most of that time. The flag continued to be flown until being shot down and then replaced with an even larger flag.

The attacking jets used cannons, rockets and napalm against this basically defenseless ship. The attack, consisting of about thirty air sorties over a twenty-five minute period, killed and wounded a number of the crew, caused raging fires, and knocked out the defensive gun mounts and most of the ship’s communication equipment. The attackers also jammed the ship’s radios on both the U.S. Navy’s tactical and the international maritime distress frequencies. However, due to the actions of a brave radio operator, the ship was able to send a distress call to the U.S. Sixth Fleet over 400 miles away.

After the air attack ended, three torpedo boats appeared and came in for the kill. They opened fire with 20 and 40-mm guns and torpedoes. One torpedo hit just below the waterline and opened up a 39-foot-wide hole in the U.S. Navy ship, now basically dead in the water. The torpedo boats continued to fire armor-piercing projectiles into the ship for forty minutes.

Three lifeboats that were still usable were secured and dropped over the ship’s side. The attackers shot up two of the lifeboats and carried the third lifeboat away. Shortly afterward, more jet fighters and two assault helicopters carrying armed troops appeared. However, before the final assault, these aircraft suddenly departed.

The attackers killed thirty-four Americans and wounded over 170 out of 294 crewmembers.

The appalling betrayal and cover up

Before the torpedo boats attacked, four U.S. jets were launched to help the U.S. ship. However, they were soon recalled on order of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The reason given for the recall was that these planes were carrying nuclear weapons. About 95 minutes later, another wave of U.S. planes was launched, but it was subsequently recalled on order of the U.S. president. The U.S. ship did not receive any aid from the Navy until around dawn the next day when two U.S. destroyers finally arrived.

The Navy ordered the sailors not to discuss the attack with anyone, and split up and reassigned the crew. While the ship was limping to a dry dock in Malta, the Navy convened a formal Court of Inquiry. Strangely, the Court’s mission was not to investigate the attack, but to determine whether any shortcomings of the crew had contributed to the injuries and deaths that resulted from the attack. What!? The Court had one week to report which led to what Rear Admiral Merlin Sterling, the Navy’s former judge advocate general, later described as a “hasty, superficial, incomplete and totally inadequate inquiry.”

Defying the cover up

In June 1982, the ship’s crewmembers reunited for the first time and formed an association with, among others, the goal of obtaining a Congressional investigation of the attack and of bringing the true story to the American people.

As a result of efforts of an association member and of a local activist, Boulder Mayor Linda Jourgensen declared June 8, 1987 to be a day to memorialize the ship and the 34 crew members who were killed in the attack. In 1988, Colorado Governor Roy Romer issued a similar proclamation for June 8, 1988. A few other cities and states have also recognized the ship and her crew. However Congress has yet to thoroughly investigate the attack.


The ship was the USS Liberty, Israel was the attacker, Lyndon Johnson was the President and the Defense Secretary was Robert McNamara. This murderous Israeli attack and reprehensible cover up demonstrated to Israel that it could literally get away with murder, a terrible situation for the Middle East and U.S. policy independence.

Israeli apologists claim that this was a case of mistaken identity, but that claim is debunked in, for example, and

Remember the USS Liberty! Spread the word about this heroic crew, the despicable attack and the shameful cover up.

Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is a retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado

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  1. eileen fleming (@wearewideawak says:

    End USA Govt. Coverup: Honor USS LIBERTY

    The crew of the USS Liberty is the most decorated crew since World War II and among the most decorated for a single engagement in the entire history of the United States Navy. Virtually unarmed, the American navy ship was attacked by Israeli planes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967 leaving 34 US Sailors and Marines dead and 174 more wounded. Yet, the attack has never received a full investigation, as required by law.

    In October of 2003, an Independent Commission of Inquiry convened including Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, United States Navy, (Ret.), Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Raymond G. Davis, United States Marine Corps, (MOH), Former Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; Rear Admiral Merlin Staring, United States Navy, (Ret.), Former Judge Advocate General of the Navy; and Ambassador James Akins, (Ret.), Former United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The Independent Commission of Inquiry, having undertaken an independent investigation of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty, including eyewitness testimony from surviving crewmembers a review of naval and other official records, an examination of official statements by the Israeli and American governments, a study of the conclusions of all previous official inquiries, and a consideration of important new evidence and recent statements from individuals having direct knowledge of the attack or the cover up, concluded that there was compelling evidence that Israel’s attack was deliberate and ‘Israel committed acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States.’

    WHEREUPON, we, the undersigned, in order to fulfill our duty to the brave crew of the USS Liberty and to all Americans who are asked to serve in our Armed Forces, hereby call upon the Department of the Navy, the Congress of the United States and the American people to immediately take the following actions:

    FIRST: That a new Court of Inquiry be convened by the Department of the Navy, operating with Congressional oversight, to take public testimony from surviving crewmembers; and to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the attack on the USS Liberty, with full cooperation from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the military intelligence services, and to determine Israel’s possible motive in launching said attack on a U.S. naval vessel;

    SECOND: That every appropriate committee of the Congress of the United States investigate the actions of the White House and Defense Department that prevented the rescue of the USS Liberty, thereafter threatened her surviving officers and men if they exposed the truth, and covered up the true circumstances of the attack from the American people; and

    THIRD: That the eighth day of June of every year be proclaimed to be hereafter known as “USS LIBERTY REMEMBRANCE DAY, in order to commemorate the Liberty’s heroic crew and to educate the American people of the danger to our national security inherent in any passionate attachment of our elected officials for any foreign nation.” -Petition to Congress

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The USS liberty remembrance day is a day of review of the evils of war and the enthusiasm of war – mongers whould could not succeed

  3. Ron Neil says:

    Activists should be hand-delivering this Dollar DVD to vets. Imagine if we woke up those in uniform, past and present, to the USS Liberty lies.