Navy Commander William L. McGonagle, skipper of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), points out damage inflicted on the ship’s superstructure when Israeli forces attacked the intelligence-gathering ship off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967. The photograph was taken on June 16, two days after Liberty arrived at Valletta, Malta, for repairs. (US Navy photo via Naval History and Heritage Command) PALM COAST, Florida — It’s more than 50 years ago now, but Ernie Gallo still remembers where he was working as a Navy communications technician on board the USS Liberty in the Mediterranean Sea, when the U.S. spy ship was attacked by Israeli fighter jets on June 8, 1967 during the Six-Day War.
"When the torpedo hit, I sat on the deck, and when it exploded, I went airborne," said Gallo, 74, surrounded in the cozy office of his Palm Bay home by books, paintings, plaques and memorabilia related to that day. Thirty-four of his shipmates were killed in the attack, which wounded an additional 174 crew members. "Living through his event, it was terrible for many reasons."
Gallo escaped physical injury, but the attack has become arguably the defining moment in his life. Following six years in the Navy, including more than two years in combat, Gallo worked for the CIA for 28 years in the realm of communication security.
As the years passed, however, the experience on the USS Liberty continued to trouble him.
In the immediate aftermath, a Naval Board of Inquiry determined that the two-hour attack led by four Israeli fighter jets on the defenseless intelligence-gathering ship was an accident, conducted in error.
Gallo and his shipmates didn’t buy it.
Although initially ordered not to discuss the attack, crew members ultimately started comparing recollections that were at odds with the official report. By the time of a 15th anniversary gathering in 1982, they had formed the USS Liberty Veterans Association, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the warship’s story and collecting information to clarify its history.
"Our mission is to have the truth told about what happened to us, so that history records the event accurately," said Gallo, now in his third three-year term as the organization’s president. In an election year, the association is focused on persuading political candidates to push for a congressional investigation into the attack.
Gallo, author of a book on the attack, "Liberty Injustices," in 2013, was spreading the word at a recent history forum in DeLand, sponsored by the DeLand Memorial Hospital & Veterans Museum and DeLand Historic Trust.
Gallo recounted the story and evidence that he maintains has cast doubt on the Navy’s official findings. Nearby, literature and petitions calling for action from lawmakers were offered to a crowd of roughly 40 people.
The association’s evidence "has all been confirmed by recollections from radio men and relay stations who heard communications," Gallo said, a few days after the meeting. "We heard the same information from three people in different locations. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years."
Gallo estimates that the group’s membership encompasses 90 surviving crew members […]