On Friday, Patricia Blue-Rousakis plans to be at Arlington National Cemetery where she has spent many June 8ths for the past 15 years.
There, she’ll join with a handful of survivors of the 1967 attack on the surveillance ship USS Liberty, which was struck by Israeli air and naval forces. The group will hear a retired chaplain say a prayer, visit with those in attendance -- some, like herself, who lost family members on the Liberty -- and then go off to lunch in Alexandria, Va.
But even after so many years, and knowing full well that the topic of the Liberty is widely viewed as poisonous, the visitors still note the absence of political and military officials at the observance.
“We talk about it among ourselves,” said Blue-Rousakis, whose first husband, Alan Blue, was a National Security Agency linguist on the ship. He was among the 34 men killed and 174 wounded in the attack.
“Of the family members and the survivors, every single one of us at one time or another has invited our representative from [the House] and the Senate. And no one has ever shown up. No one. It’s a very sad little gathering.”
It’s just not the politicians, she said.
Forty-five years after the attack, no uniformed officers are expected to attend the ceremony.
“They won’t do it. They absolutely will not do it,” she said.
The lightly armed American spy ship was strafed, napalmed and torpedoed by Israeli air and naval forces for more than an hour in broad daylight during the Six-Day War. But for a crewman gerry-rigging a radio to get a message out to the fleet, many Liberty survivors believe they would have been sunk with all hands.
President Lyndon Johnson accepted Israel’s apology for the attack, but it has remained hotly controversial ever since, a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists. Alternative theories about Israel’s attack -- about it being deliberate; about cover-ups -- have made the topic of the Liberty too radioactive for members of Congress or Pentagon leaders.
Journalist and author James Scott, whose father survived the attack, wrote in “Attack on the Liberty” that Johnson believed the attack was deliberate. But he let Israel off the hook because he feared “alienating” American Jewish leaders, from whom he was getting “pressure” for escalating the war in Vietnam.
Joseph Meadors, a Liberty survivor and the current president of the Liberty Veterans Association, said he and his predecessors have been inviting members of Congress to Arlington since they began holding the observances in the 1980s, he said.
“This year I’ve invited every member of Congress who represents a congressional district where a USS Liberty KIA lived,” Meadors said. This meant invitations to lawmakers from 21 states. So far three lawmakers have said they would send staffers, but as of Wednesday one staffer had bailed out, saying there was a scheduling conflict.
This is usually how it works, Meadors said. He said he’d be surprised if the other staffers show.
One lawmaker, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, responded to the invitation with a brief note to be read at the ceremony. Cornyn offered his “deep sympathy to the friends and loved ones of the 34 brave Americans who were lost that day.
“Although words are hardly adequate, please know that you and your families are in my thoughts and prayers.” The note spoke of honoring the dead who protect the United States, and of remaining dedicated, “just as they were dedicated, to the principles foundational to our Constitution, we must willingly defend them whenever necessary.”