The Crew Remembers....
On 08 June 2007 James E. Lehr (Cpl. USMC 1967-1969) contributed:
“.....concerning the USS Liberty, I believe we had received replenishments the day before the attack on the USS Liberty. When we received info concerning the attack, we were advised to empty the coolers in order to preserve the two to three sailors who were killed during this incident.
On 08 June 2007 Alan Caminiti (SK2 1968-1970) added the following:
"I joined the ship in Italy in May 1968 and the word then was that we had raced to the scene and actually put some bodies in our reefer. A number of Rock crewmembers took photos of the Liberty all shot up."
Robert “RJ” Leon (SK3 1966-1968) on 09 June 2007 said:
“I was aboard the Rock during the USS Liberty incident I have several pictures taken a we were pulling up to the listing ship. We were full ahead all night to reach the Liberty. I thought the ship was going to fall apart.
Mark Lehmann (LT 1966-1968) on 09 June 2007 contributed the following additional comments:
“I was the 2nd Division officer and an OOD during that time. We did indeed make a dash from a position almost in the Straits of Gibraltar to get to the Liberty, which had been hit. I too felt like the ship was going to fall apart because of the vibration at high speed!
Two faster, closer DD's were sent ahead to protect the Liberty. Our carriers provided air cover and helicopters to evacuate the dead and seriously wounded.
Little Rock pulled alongside about 1,000 yards away and sent our Utility boat over (see photo) to bring aboard the "walking wounded." 2nd Div. was in charge of those boats so I was one of those there to lend a hand to the men coming aboard. I believe that then Lt. John Cochram, a member of the (USS Little Rock) Association who was the DCA, was sent over to evaluate damage and report to 6th Fleet.
In another of the attached photos you can see the carrier on the other side of Liberty. (some photos courtesy of Cdr. Hix). These photos, by the way, have been provided to the USS Liberty Association. For a huge, detailed report of the incident by the survivors, go to their website, http://www.ussliberty.org.
Mark Lehmann (LT 1966-1968) on 6/09/07 added:
“For those who want to see a very interesting, rather complete (1 hr. long) BBC documentary on the entire history of the Liberty and the "incident" go to www.whatreallyhappened.com/ussliberty.html . There is one brief shot of the Little Rock, but the background information is fascinating and scary. The launching of the aircraft toward Egypt, corroborates with my memory of watching them take off from the carriers while I was on the bridge.
Larry Daly (BT-3 1966-68) on 23 Oct 07 told us:
"I served aboard the "Rock" from 1966-68 and I remember when we pulled up to her (the Liberty) and I could not believe that she took that much damage and still remained afloat. A tribute to the rest of the crew and their damage control party's.
I took several pictures of the "LIBERTY" and soon after sent them home by mail. The day which I sent the pictures home was a few days later after the .attack I watched as our helo was making it's daily mail run, and about to land on the U.S.S. America when I noticed that she (the helo) was dropping all the mail bags over the side into the sea. As it turned out the helo was having mechanical difficulties and needed to lighten it's load to make to the flight deck aboard the America.
Tucked in between the two pictures of the Liberty I placed two twenty dollar bills for my mom to help out at home, as I did often. Well I kissed them pictures and the money good by. Thankfully the helo landed safely and I was surprised about a week later to get a soggy envelope with my pictures and money back."
David A. Rocker (LT 1965-1967) recounts:
"I was the OOD of the Little Rock when we rushed to the rescue of the Liberty. Sorry about my handwriting. The log is shown to be signed by LTJG D.A. Rockley. It should read D.A. Rocker.
This was a terribly frightening day. Earlier in the Six Day War the Egyptians, who had been attacked by Israel from the sea, had tried to draw Russia into the war on their side, claiming that the attacking planes were American. Fortunately, Russia rejected this claim as Russian ships, which were sailing in close proximity to our task force, knew that our carriers had never launched. By the time of this attack, Egypt was losing badly and had become desperate. When the Liberty was struck, my first thoughts were that it was the Egyptians who were trying to elicit a response and then force Russia into the war.
After the attack, we were at full general quarters, had live shells in the turrets and the carrier launched an air strike. One had the feeling that World War III was about to start. Israel then acknowledged its mistake and the air strike was recalled after some delay. We continued at flank speed toward the Liberty to assist the ship and its crew.
The losses were great. It was a very sad day."
Stephen Griggs MM3 adds:
"I just read the article of the Rock's involvement in the Liberty incident. Well done and thanks. It really jogged my memory.
I served aboard the Rock nearly two years and my duty station during the run to the Liberty was Forward Engine Room throttle watch. Yes we had the old girl shaking pretty good."
On 13 Apr 09 RMCS J. L. Fant (Ret.) told us:
"I was an RM2 then RM1 assigned to COMSIXTHFLT communications during that time period. Have very vivid memories of the hectic pace of communications during those six days and the extended watch hours we stood.
I was the Radio One Supervisor when the distress calls from the U.S.S. Liberty came across the voice circuits which I immediately patched to the ship's bridge and the flag bridge.
When I give it some thought it seems like only yesterday...."
On 25 Feb 2010 Major Joseph Wheeler USMC (Ret) passed on the following account of the Little Rock's interaction with the Russians during the "Liberty Incident":
"On 8 June 1967 the USS Little Rock was sailing in the center of a fleet formation with the USS America (CVA-66) and the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) in company. I think the USS Galveston (CLG-3) was with us as well. The First Watch, 1200 to 1600, was set and we were in a Modified Condition 3. I was Surface Battery Control/AA Defense Forward. My Station, the 6' Turret and Director, the 5" Mount and Director, and the Plotting Rooms were basically the General Quarters watch standers. I don't recall the status of the magazines and handling rooms.
At some point during the watch, either Lance Corporal Lehr or PFC Schwartz who were the TDT Operators remarked that the "Bird Farms" were going crazy and launching all sorts of heavily loaded aircraft. About that time the Flag Bridge called me. Vice Admiral Martin asked me how many of my watch standers would turn over if we were to go to General Quarters. I told him we would only lose a couple lookouts. He told me to hold every one in place on station until physically relieved as we were going to go to GQ. Captain Mitchell was also on that circuit. We did as ordered.
We had, as far as I know, 3 Russian ships in the formation with us. I think that they were a Kilden Class DD, a Kashin Class DD and a "Gun Boat". I was later told that they had been maneuvering with us as if they were part of our Fleet.
When I reported to the Bridge that all GQ stations were manned and ready, the Admiral asked if we were tracking the two Russian ships on our Port and Starboard. I said we were tracking with the "Directors". The Admiral ordered us to have the Turret and Mount track them with their guns. When we did that they were put into local control with the firing keys at my location activated (I think). This was done due to the very short ranges involved. We were ordered to fill the hoists and standby for surface action Port and Starboard.
I was later told that the Admiral had a voice message (in Russian), transmitted to the Russians over a circuit that the Russians were known to be guarding. The gist of that message, as I understand, said something to the effect that a United States Navy ship had been attacked by an unknown enemy force and that the Russians were to depart from our formation as we were in "War" status. As far as I know the Russians never acknowledged the order, but shortly afterwards they broke away and sailed toward the Alexandria Fleet anchorage. A third ship had been trailing behind us. I think that they were shadowed by some of our DDs and aircraft for a while.
After they left, we were ordered to centerline the Turret and Mount and return the shells and powder to the magazines with Plotting Rooms on line. I don't recall how long we remained at GQ.
We headed toward the location of the USS Liberty with Destroyer escort and air cover. I don't remember if I was on watch when we arrived at the Liberty's location, but I was relieved of the watch and went below, retrieved my camera and took some pictures.
It was later in the Wardroom that, I think it was the DCA, who remarked about how well the Liberty's Damage Control Party functioned and the excellent work of their Ensign DCA. Our DCA said something to the effect: "Damn if that DC School in Norfolk really does work". He was quite proud of those sailors. It is my understanding that the Little Rock sent our Rescue and Assistance Team to the Liberty, not just a few senior officer observers.
Our Weapons Department/Gunnery Division sailors and the Detachment Marines all responded quickly, professionally and without hesitation in the performance of their duties. I am convinced that if we were ordered to shoot, we would have had achieved devastating effects on our targets. Think for a moment, how brave and unflinching Admiral Martin's actions were that day, and we in the Little Rock were a significant part of it all.
I hope that I haven't slighted anyone or got things too screwed up with my recollection of that day. But I still wonder what would have been the outcome if we fired on those Russians."
• Major Wheeler added the following thought:
''Art, Trying to recall an event that occurred nearly 44 years ago with accuracy is daunting. I hope that time hasn't "colored" my memory too much. If I have made any errors in this "Oral History", I ask those who were there to make any and all corrections necessary."
Semper Fi, Joe Wheeler
On 26 Mar 2011 Dave Reid CT3 (CTA1, USN Ret.) emailed the following:
"I was a CT3 at the time, assigned as a Signals Intelligence Interpretive Analyst with the Naval Security Group Detachment attached to the Staff, Commander Sixth Fleet. Our spaces were in the SUPRAD (Supplementary Radio) compartment on the 01 level, portside.
I had joined the detachment in the Fall of 1966, when COMSIXTHFLT was aboard the USS SPRINGFIELD (CLG-7), home ported in Villefranche-Sur-Mer.
Following COMSIXTHFLT's move to the USS Little Rock CLG 4 in January 1967, and a change of home ports to Gaeta, Italy; in addition to my assigned billet duties, I also performed COMSEC (Communications Security) monitoring of Navy frequencies for communications violations. I was on watch when the LIBERTY “MAY DAY” calls went out over the HI-COM circuit, which was the only circuit the LIBERTY had left to communicate with the world. I immediately notified the supervisor and LCDR BRADLEY, our OIC, and began recording the transmissions, while at the same time providing them with live copy. LCDR BRADLEY took the live copy to the Fleet Comm Officer and Chief of Staff, and it wasn't very long before I felt the ship turn and pick up speed, and we began our speed run to aid the LIBERTY.
It seemed that in no time at all, all of the CT's onboard had assembled in our small spaces, as we continued to monitor, tape, and copy the transmissions. The LIBERTY was one of our “Spook” ships, and we knew many of those onboard – it was a very stressful transit to the Eastern Med for us!
When we pulled alongside LIBERTY, many of the detachment went up to the open deck to look at her and get a glimpse of the crew, looking for those they knew who were onboard.
LCDR BRADLEY and CTOC COATS, the detachment COMM Chief were heloed with VADM Martin, and others, to the LIBERTY. They returned to LITTLE ROCK later by small boat, saddened by what they had seen aboard the LIBERTY.
After the wounded LIBERTY crewmembers were brought aboard LITTLE ROCK, many of us in the detachment spent time visiting with them until they were transferred from the ship.
I remained aboard LITTLE ROCK until March 1968, when I transferred to Naval Security Group HQS in Washington DC. While there, I visited with CDR BRADLEY, who had earlier transferred to the same command.
An interesting side note – then LCDR Dave Lewis had been stationed at the Naval Security Group HQS in Washington, where I had also been prior to my assignment to the NSG Detachment with Staff, COMSIXTHFLT. He was aboard LIBERTY, and was burned and blinded when he opened the Comm Spaces door just as the torpedo exploded. He was literally blown up the ladder to the next deck.
In 1968, he was on limited duty, assigned to the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, while he was recovering from his injuries.
Fast forward six years – I am a CT1, checking in for duty at NAVCOMMSTA GUAM, and discover that CDR Dave Lewis is the Executive Officer!! CDR Lewis later retired from the Navy, and now resides in Vermont, where he operates a tree farm.
I continue to keep in touch with other members of the detachment, and as June 8th approaches every year, we stop and remember, because we can never forget the attack on the USS LIBERTY."
Ellerbe Cole (LTJG 1968-1969) on 13 April 2011 sent in the following quote from President Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010), p. 491 (December 5, 1980):
"I directed [Secretary of State, former Senator from Maine, Ed Muskie to settle with the Israelis on compensation for their sinking the USS Liberty [in 1967]."
Mr. Cole comments: "This is the first I've heard that the Liberty was sunk." (!!!)
Note 1: CT3 William Bernard Allenbaugh, one of the thirty four crewmen killed in the attack on the USS Liberty, was the brother of Eleanor Allenbaugh-Moen. Eleanor is the wife of USS Little Rock Guided Missleman Anthony "Tony" Moen, Missile Division 1963-1965.