Quartermaster third class Jackson climbed the signal bridge shortly after 0400 on June 8, 1967. He liked the mid-watch. It was quiet, with most of the crew asleep there was rarely any excitement. Just him, the helmsman, the lookout, and the Officer of the Deck. The weather was pleasant and they’d passed their four hours together playing trivia games: name that tune, history, sports. Upon his relief, he spent a few more minutes staring up at the stars.
As he finished his Marlboro and tossed it into the slow-moving bow-wake some eighty feet below, he noticed that the lanyard securing the ensign had slipped loose. Sailing at five knots against a thirteen knot wind, the flag had worked itself free and was flying loose. Quickly, he reached out and grabbed the flailing line and rewrapped it around the empty cleat. Feeling a sense of pride, he descended the ladder and headed to his rack.
Jackson raised the colors again some twelve hours later beneath the bright Mediterranean sun. It was the holiday flag, twice the size of the shredded one that lay smoldering at his feet. He looked down from the signal bridge at the chaos that now consumed his ship. Napalm and white phosphorous fires covered the decks and the charred bodies of sailors lay strewn about. Bombers flew overhead and torpedo boats strafed the empty lifeboats hanging over the side.
Somehow, this weakly-armed listening ship survived three hellish hours of this attack without assistance from the nearby Sixth Fleet. It limped to port filled with thousands of holes, including a 40’ opening in her starboard beam.
The 200 casualties of the USS Liberty and their survivors have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation of why Israel conducted this attack and why the Secretary of Defense disregarded their SOS.