On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty was on a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean Sea near Sinai, Egypt. The morning started off normally until members of the ship’s crew noticed Israeli fighter jets circling above. The process was repeated several times more before a full-scale attacked was launched upon the unsuspecting ship. Thirty-four men perished in the attacks. Nearly all of the survivors were severely wounded with injuries that could only be described as horrific. The attack caused international outrage as the American and Israeli governments acted to contain the fallout from the nefarious attack. The official statement was that the attack was a grave error committed by Israeli forces upon a ship that allegedly had no clear markings identifying it as a United States Naval vessel. Members of the crew disputed this and some have made their voices heard in an attempt to tell what they know about that day tragic day in June, 1967. James M. Ennes, Jr., was a member of the crew and survived the attacked with a severely broken leg and other mental and physical injuries. He was one of the lucky ones and never wavered in his conviction to tell the truth about what he remembers from that day. Here he tells us the story from his recollections on record for the reader to digest and form an informed opinion.
The book was published in 1979, roughly about twelve years following the attack. Mysteries of that day still remain but it is here that we have a more accurate picture of what really did happen and a possible explanation as for why it happened. Ennes states that there are some aspects of the incident that will probably remain unknown for a long time. But what he does reveal about the incident is shocking and confusing. Perhaps the biggest question is why would Israeli fighter planes attack a U.S. vessel clearly marked and not on a combat mission?
The story begins before the Liberty arrives near the coast of Egypt. Orders were dispatched for the Liberty to change its position but were never received by the ship due to poor communication channels. If the orders had been received, then maybe this book would not exist. Ennes’ memories are very candid and show some what life is like for men on the seas, far away from home and surrounded by water on all side. The anecdotes at the beginning of the book are entertaining and slowly we are introduced to the characters in the story. Their mission appears to be moving along slowly until June 8, when all hell broke loose. It is at this point in the book, where we reach Defcon 1 and the fallout is horrifying. Readers with sensitive stomachs may find the latter part of the book highly uncomfortable to read. The descriptions of the injuries sustained by survivors and the deaths of other crew members are told in detail giving a graphic picture of the carnage that ensued. And what is even more appalling is the lack of support from Washington and the conflicting orders given to military personnel that sought to provide assistance to the critically injured ship and its crew.
As we make our way through the book and the attack is over, the period of recuperation and investigation comes into focus. This is the point in the book where shock turns into anger. Nearly all of the major political figures involved are deceased and unable to answer questions we may have. But what did happen as Ennes shows us, is that a cover-up was initiated at the highest levels of government for reasons which eluded the crew. Citations for bravery and reparations by the Israeli government followed but the manner in which they occurred will stun even the most hardened readers. The lives of the surviving crew members were changed forever and few have been able to fully tell their stories without repercussions from military brass and the White House. Even today, fifty years later, secrets remain about the motives behind the attack. We may never know all of the details of the attack but we do have a place to start here. Ennes deserves an additional acknowledgment for being able to distinguish between the actions of the Israeli government and people of the Jewish faith. Having survived an attack of such nature, it would have been fairly easy for him to cast all Jews as perpetrators of an unthinkable crime. But Ennes avoids the pitfall and makes it clear that the attack was carried about by Jewish people but by individuals with motives of their own.
Towards the end of the book, Ennes touches on the possible motive behind the attack. And while there is no conclusive evidence that his belief is correct, it is a highly plausible explanation. In time his words may prove to be true but for now, we are still saddled with a number of unanswered questions surrounding the attack. But with this story of tragedy and perseverance, we are closer to fully understanding the events of that day.