A Navy document released under the Freedom Information Act suggests the Navy planned and then retreated from naming one of its Littoral Combat Ships "Liberty," say members of the Liberty Veterans Association.
The group, made up of survivors of the June 8, 1967, Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, believes the Navy dumped the name for fear of rekindling debate over the attack, which has never been investigated by Congress. Thirty-four men died and 174 were wounded.
The document is a web page from the Naval Vessel Registry, the official inventory of U.S. Navy ships. Liberty association Director of Operations Joseph Meadors got it through a Freedom of Information Act request last year with the assistance of MuckRock, a Boston-based public records request service for journalists, researchers and activists.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. James Ennes, a Liberty survivor, told Military.com in an email he recalled "that Liberty was originally scheduled to be the name for the newest LCS [after the Freedom]. The Liberty name was actually used in the early planning papers for the new ship. But there were protests (from some unidentified source) and the name was quietly withdrawn and Independence was used instead."
Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Navy Air Sea Systems, or NAVSEA, said he is familiar with the "LCS Liberty" question and had researched it previously.
"At no point was an LCS going to be named Liberty," said Johnson, who also expressed doubts about the document listing "LCS Liberty" as a planned ship. He said it is "just an error by NVR."
According to the NVR's website, ships are listed in the registry when the classification and hull numbers are assigned to vessels authorized to be built by the President, or when the chief of naval operations requests instatement or reinstatement of vessels as approved by Navy Secretary.
Former Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who would have been in the job at the time an LCS Liberty was supposedly being planned, said in an email to Military.com he recalls no debate about LCS naming. The ships were all to be named after American cities and towns, he said.
But a "Liberty" designation would not be inconsistent with that plan. In the same FOIA request in which he got a copy of the NVR page listing "LCS Liberty," Meadors also got a list of possible ship-names for LCSs prepared for the Chief of Naval Operations. The four-page list, compiled by the Navy History and Heritage Command, included spaces for recommendations for LCS-2, -3 and -4; by this time LCS-1 had already been named Freedom.
The suggested names were listed A through K, with Independence in the first spot, followed by Liberty, which the historians noted would honor communities by that name in Missouri, Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania.
LCS-2 was ultimately named Independence and LCS-3 was named Fort Worth, which was the letter D on the list, after Aurora.
There is no indication that then-CNO Adm. Mike Mullen ever saw the list or made any recommendations to Winter, who said in an email he recalls no dispute over ship naming. Mullen did not reply to Military.com's request for comment made through his spokesman.
The British journal Naval-technology.com, reported that Liberty was to be the name of the fourth LCS, until the Navy terminated the contract with builder General Dynamics over projected delays and cost overruns in late October 2007.
Six months later the Navy put the work out to bid again, and in April 2009 General Dynamics again won the contract, though now the ship would be named Coronado.
Ennes and Meadors say they do not believe the Navy Vessel Registry entry was a mistake. They believe that politics is even playing a role in keeping a new "Liberty" from the Navy's inventory.
The Navy, Ennes said, "lost their nerve and will not use USS Liberty as it is ‘too sensitive.' "