Conspiracy Theorists, Anti-Semites and More
Many surviving crewmembers feel they’ve been dishonored by the cover-up. “We’ve been made to appear as bigots and the lies frustrate our efforts to distance ourselves from neo-Nazi organizations [and other anti-Jewish groups],” says Gallo.
“Our government put the Israeli relationship over and above the crew and, time after time, the eye witnesses of the attack are called conspiracy theorists. Because the events involved Israel and are compounded by a state lie, we are automatically labeled a bunch of whiners. I guess we are supposed to keep our mouths shut. I suppose if no one was killed or wounded, we could possibly do that. However, [Israel] attempted to murder 294 Americans. We would be remiss as Americans if we did not speak out and our 34 shipmates would have died for nothing.”
Kukal feels the same way. “It’s easy for those who want this kept under wraps to call us names such as anti-Semitic. You can call us what you want, but common sense will tell you that almost three-fourths of the crew were Communications Technicians. All of them, including me, held a security clearance with the government. So we were considered the most trusted men in the Navy. Do you really think we banded together to lie about what we saw? Do you really think that these men banded together after the attack, and decided to become racists and haters of Jews, when some of the crew were Jews?” Kukal and Tourney co-host a radio show on the Republic Broadcasting Network. (Visit http://republicbroadcasting.org/listen-live/ to listen to the live broadcasts.) “I ran a guy off our show because his remarks were entirely against the Jewish faith. We wouldn’t tolerate his remarks.”
Some survivors haven’t borne these insults, simply because they never let anyone know they experienced this trauma and tragedy. “I’ve never been called anti-Semitic and I’ll tell you why,” explains Bowen. “I never talked about the Liberty incident. For 43 years I didn’t speak or write about it. If anything, I was anti-government. I was angry that the government didn’t get the true story out, but I just kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to lose my [security] clearances.”
Shortly after the attack, Phil Tourney got a letter and a check from the State Department. “They said, ‘Here’s $300 for your wounds, sign this document that says you agree to never sue the state of Israel.’ I was a scared kid at 21 and I signed it. I just wanted it all to go away.”
But Tourney understands now that it never really goes away. “After it was all over and I was debriefed, they said ‘You’ve got the highest security clearance anybody can get in this country. When you walk away, never talk about this to anybody, including your family.’ So for 20 years, I kept it all bottled up inside.”
Larry Bowen still gets choked up when recalling the need to seal the hatch and won’t forget his efforts to find and identify the body of his “good friend, Bob Eisenburg — a 23-year-old Jewish kid from Minnesota. Bob was supposed to separate from the Navy in August.” It took Bowen nearly five decades, but he finally located Bob’s family and was able to tell Bob’s nephew that he’d died instantly and hadn’t suffered.
Don Pageler (FRA Branch 175, Orange County, Calif.) was a 21-year-old Navy seaman assigned as a CT on Liberty when it departed from Norfolk in May of 1967. He witnessed the same trauma, horror and fear as his shipmates and carried tremendous guilt afterward. He was very young and did as he was told, but he felt like that wasn’t enough.
“One of the guilt trips I laid on myself was that I don’t have the right to feel sorry for myself. I felt guilty because all I did was survive. I felt like I should have been able to grab those planes out of the sky, slam them down in the water and [make them stop]. During the attack you have a job to do. You can’t fall down and start crying. After the attack, you’ve got to help the wounded and get the ship to port. You’ve got to get the thing cleaned up. I think you get yourself in a habit of [knowing you just need to carry on]. Pretty soon, it becomes the easier thing to do, instead of having to deal with it. When I got home, I didn’t really want to talk about it, but as time goes on, all those bad feelings keep wanting to come out.”
The crew of the USS Liberty did everything possible not to give up their ship and fought the only way they could by maintaining vital engineering propulsion machinery, water tight integrity and most of all, helping keep their wounded shipmates alive. Individual survivors have different perspectives on the attack and how it impacted the rest of their lives, but most agree that they simply want the truth to be known.
“Our frustration remains that our government didn’t do what they had a legal requirement to do and that’s to conduct a legitimate inquiry into the attack,” summarizes Bowen. “I don’t think there’s any need to discredit anyone. We’re not anti-Jew or anti-Israel, just disappointed that the two governments couldn’t get together and tell the truth. We don’t expect any additional compensation; we just want the American public to know the truth. I don’t believe it will ever happen, but I think that might bring closure or appease some of my shipmates. There are some who will never get over it.
“I lived through it and I’ll never forget,” he continues. “It’s painful to recall it and brings tears to my eyes sometimes, but that’s part of getting through it. The bond between the Liberty shipmates is extremely strong. We lived through it together; we’re brothers and that bond will never be broken.”
The USS Liberty Veterans Association (LVA)
Many of the surviving crewmembers belong to the USS Liberty Veterans Association (LVA) and work to pursue the publication of the true story. Readers can contact the LVA at USS Liberty Veterans Association, PO Box 680275, Marietta, GA 30068 or by phone at 770-363-3986. To learn more, visit http://www.ussLiberty.org or http://www.ussLibertyveterans.org
Ernest A. Gallo is a USS Liberty survivor and a member and former president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association. He is also the author of Liberty Injustices – A Survivor’s Account of American Bigotry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Phillip Francis Tourney is a three-time president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association and author of What I Saw That Day. He can be reached at email@example.com
Lauren Armstrong is the Contributing Editor and Member of the FRA Auxiliary. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org