Congressional Medal Of Honor Citation:
Captain William L. McGonagle, U.S. Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sailing in international waters, the Liberty was attacked without warning by jet fighter aircraft and motor torpedo boats which inflicted many casualties among the crew and caused extreme damage to the ship. Although severely wounded during the first air attack, Capt. McGonagle remained at his battle station on the badly damaged bridge and, with full knowledge of the seriousness of his wounds, subordinated his own welfare to the safety and survival of his command. Steadfastly refusing any treatment which would take him away from his post, he calmly continued to exercise firm command of his ship. Despite continuous exposure to fire, he maneuvered his ship, directed its defense, supervised the control of flooding and fire, and saw to the care of the casualties. Capt. McGonagle’s extraordinary valor under these conditions inspired the surviving members of the Liberty’s crew, many of them seriously wounded, to heroic efforts to overcome the battle damage and keep the ship afloat. Subsequent to the attack, although in great pain and weak from the loss of blood, Captain McGonagle remained at his battle station and continued to command his ship for more than 17 hours. It was only after rendezvous with a U.S. destroyer that he relinquished personal control of the Liberty and permitted himself to be removed from the bridge. Even then, he refused much needed medical attention until convinced that the seriously wounded among his crew had been treated. Capt. McGonagle’s superb professionalism, courageous fighting spirit, and valiant leadership saved his ship and many lives. His actions sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Note: Captain McGonagle earned the Medal of Honor for actions that took place in international waters in the Eastern Mediterranean rather than in Vietnam.
Captain William McGonagle
November 19, 1925 – March 3, 1999
From The Log: Spring 1999 (Front Page): Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient – CAPT William McGONAGLE – Commissioned: USC NROTC, Class of 1947, dies.
Bill McGonagle lost his bout with lung cancer on Wednesday, Mar 3, 1999, the same day as the NROTC Alumni League Board of Directors spring meeting in the Commons Building on the USC campus. At that meeting, unaware of McGonagle’s passing, Bill Stevens announced that McGonagle’s lung cancer had recurred. After the announcement, the Board voted to assume the funding of the annual William McGonagle Scholarship Award for an outstanding midshipmen at League expense, if and when the Captain passed on.
The story of Captain McGonagle’s ordeal with the air and sea attacks on his ship, the USS Liberty, by Israeli planes and PT boats was chronicled in the 1997 Alumni League Log.
Half of Bill’s ashes were scattered at sea off of Hawaii. The other half buried with the 34 members of his crew, who were killed on the LIBERTY, in a special section at Arlington National Cemetery.
Bill had undergone chemotherapy treatments during the first half of 1998. Recently, while on the east coast, he discovered his cancer had recurred. He is survived by two daughters, Cindy and Sandi.