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OPINION | RAOUF J. HALABY: The forgotten

Honor sailors of the USS Liberty by Raouf J. Halaby Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 8, 2023 at 2:32 a.m.

Even though numerically the dead and wounded American servicemen numbered in the hundreds instead thousands, June 8, 1967, is as heinous a date of infamy as the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Flight 93.

This time the perpetrator was not an enemy; rather, it was an ally whose existence, economy, and security have been solely dependent on America's, no questions asked.

Not only did Israel murder and wound sailors in cold blood on an unarmed American ship, it also got away with it and, for the past 57 years, has been handsomely rewarded.

While each of the aforementioned tragedies is remembered as barbarically heinous, the June 8, 1967, assault on the USS Liberty, an unarmed U.S. Navy ship moored in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean (in close proximity to Egypt), has to be the most egregiously shameful act of political expediency and reprehensible cowardice committed by President Lyndon Johnson, the Pentagon, and Congress.

In 1982, I had the privilege of attending a standing-room only presentation by James Ennes. For almost two hours the hushed audience listened to the decorated lieutenant commander's chilling personal account of the dastardly repetitive attacks perpetrated by Israel, the U.S.' so-called "only dependable ally in the Middle East." Even though the ship displayed a large American flag, the strafing and bombing (missiles, torpedoes, large-caliber machine guns) by the Israeli air force and torpedo boats incapacitated, but did not sink, the ship.

When it was all said and done over two hours later, 34 American sailors were killed and 174 wounded, many severely burned from the napalm explosives provided by the United States.

Experts agree that Israel's deliberate attack had two motives: 1. Israelis were worried that the American spy ship would discover their killing of hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai. 2. They were also worried about the Johnson administration discovering their plans to start a new front on the Golan Heights.

When Israel commits murderous acts and in typical Israeli fashion, its hasbara machine goes into overdrive; it initially hoped to pin the blame on Egypt. Caught in the bloody act by U.S. intelligence, what followed was/is a national betrayal never witnessed on this scale. Admiral John McCain Sr., John McCain's father, ordered two U.S. jet fighters from an American aircraft carrier in the waters of the western Mediterranean to return to base, thus leaving the USS Liberty and her crew at the mercy of Israeli pilots and sailors. Like father like son, till the end of his life, John McCain remained an ardent supporter of Israel.

Subsequent to this brazen in-your-eye assault, the U.S. Navy dispatched all surviving Liberty sailors to various ships and military bases and ordered them "to keep their mouths shut."

As recently as last year, USS Liberty survivors' request for permission to participate in and be represented with a booth to tell their story and garner support for their hushed traumatic tragedy at the Veterans of Foreign Wars' annual convention in the nation's capital was shamefully nixed by the Pentagon and political hacks of every stripe and political affiliation.

A nation that selectively and dishonorably turns it back on its servicemen and servicewomen is a nation that has lost its soul.

(DROP CAP) During the Q&A session with Lieutenant Commander Ennes, he decried the U.S. government's duplicitous and cowardly inaction at every level and the sweeping of this horrific assault under the rug. He was equally incensed by the fact that his book kept disappearing from university and public library shelves, including metropolitan bookstores, coast to coast. Ennes' detailed narrative of the napalm, fiery strafing and large-caliber bullets (over 800), the bloody carnage, the painful cries of dying and wounded sailors, and the shameful coverup left his audience shocked, dismayed, angry and, like the young man at the end of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," left his audience "sadder and wiser."

Since June 8, 1967, American taxpayers have shelled out billions upon billions of dollars to Israel, compliments of Democrat and Republican politicians. To curry favor from Jewish donors and voters for the last election cycle, this same bipartisan assortment of clowns whored their principles by rewarding Israel with yet another $38 billion no-strings-attached gift. This, even as dire economic conditions loom heavy on the horizon.

Until and unless the 34 dead American sailors, the 174 wounded sailors, and the many who have died since that infamous day are recognized for their valor and sacrifice, and until their grievances are redressed, the Albatross of Shame will hang heavy over all the cowardly characters who wave the American flag for political gains.

Lieutenant Commander Ennes' autographed book, "The Assault on the Liberty" (Random House, 1980), is one of the most prized books that grace my bookshelf. I urge readers to acquire this book, read it, and give it to others.

Denied a memorial to honor them and to commemorate their tragedy, and "forbidden under oath to tell their story to the American people," the survivors have established an online site at

To honor the memory of all the deceased and the service of the surviving sailors of the USS Liberty, please observe two minutes of silence.

Raouf J. Halaby is a professor emeritus of English and art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, avid gardener, and a peace activist.

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