Next Tuesday (June 8, 2021) is the 54th anniversary of the unprovoked attack of the USS LIBERTY by the State of Israel that killed 34 American sailors and Marines and wounded 174. To this day, the State of Israel has never been held accountable for this despicable and dastardly attack against the people of the United States. In fact, the U.S. government and the news media have covered up this horrific attack for all of these decades.
I am using today’s column to print my recorded interview with a USS LIBERTY survivor. This man is a friend of mine. His name is Ron Kukal.
Ron was born in 1939. He grew up in Rushville, Nebraska, and now lives in Sheridan, Wyoming. He joined the Navy at the age of 20. He served 8 years in the Navy and had served 7 years when he was assigned to the LIBERTY. He was a first class petty officer and a communications supervisor on board the LIBERTY. Here is my interview with Ron Kukal (edited for space):
CB: Ron, why was the USS LIBERTY where it was in the Mediterranean Sea on June 8, 1967?
RK: We were first assigned to sail up and down the coast of Africa. We all know that the USS LIBERTY was an intelligence ship. And in the middle of our tour over there, we got a call that we were needed to go to the Med. And none of us really knew what it was all about.
CB: Obviously, your ship was not designed for combat.
RK: Absolutely not.
CB: And you were not there for the purpose of any aggressive action.
RK: Absolutely not.
CB: So the ship was pretty much by itself? You didn’t have protective ships around you or anything like that?
RK: The only thing we were told [is] that if something would happen to us, the 6th Fleet was only about a half an hour away by jet plane. I believe our captain did request some protection, but it was refused. And they just said, “You keep yourself in international waters, and don’t worry about it. Fly the American flag, and don’t worry about it.”
CB: And that’s what the captain did? You were in international waters, and your ship was clearly identified as a United States vessel flying the U.S. flag very clearly, right?
RK: Yes. All morning long we had reconnaissance planes, which were Israeli, flying around us. The flag was definitely up there, and we were well marked: large lettering on the bow and “USS LIBERTY” on the fantail. Very, very clearly marked.
CB: And, of course, Israel is supposedly a U.S. ally, so I assume that the captain and the officers on the ship did not perceive a threat from the State of Israel before the attack.
RK: At breakfast that morning, some of the guys who were working for me had come to me; they were all excited because of the reconnaissance planes that we were experiencing topside. And I told them, “There’s really nothing to worry about. If they are Israeli, we’re flying the flag, and they’re friendly. So don’t let it bother you. Let’s just go to work, and don’t let it occupy your mind.” And that’s the way everybody felt about the whole thing.
CB: So at what time of day was it when the attack actually began?
RK: The exact time was 14:01. 2:01 in the afternoon.
CB: And how long had you been in those waters where you were?
RK: Oh let’s see. That’s really a good question. I think we’d been there a couple of days. I’m pretty sure that we got there about the third day of the Six-Day War. And I think we were there a day or two before the attack began.
CB: Thank you. Where were you on the ship when the attack began?
RK: I was two decks below the main deck. About right at the water line is about where I was at.
CB: Did anybody on the ship have any reason to believe or suspect that they were going to be or might be attacked?
RK: No. We did have a General Quarters drill that day, which, as you know, gets everyone prepared for attacks which we might experience. We had just finished that General Quarters drill. We were just getting back to our own work spaces when the attack occurred. Pretty good time to attack somebody, I guess you might say. They are just all settled down after having a drill like that. So it was a good time, whoever ordered it. A great time. Everybody was pretty relaxed. There were guys on the top deck that were off duty sunbathing. And one of them, I think, was the executive officer, Philip Armstrong. And no, you wouldn’t say that anybody was expecting anything.
CB: And the drill you described would have been a routine matter, I would assume.
RK: This was probably a little bit more than routine. We did them routinely, but the captain—his words to us on the intercom, I think, were: “We are in a war zone, and we will do these General Quarters drills as much as possible.”
CB: But that would have been precautionary, right? He didn’t have any indication or reason to believe that an attack was imminent.
RK: No. None whatsoever. Yes, precautionary is a good way to put it.
CB: So how many officers and crew were on board the USS LIBERTY when it was attacked?
RK: The total was 294.
CB: How many were killed and wounded?
RK: 34 were killed: 25 down below where I was at and 9 topside. The wounded numbered 174. The ship itself is the most decorated crew for a single action in the United States Navy.
CB: When you first realized that you were under attack, did you realize that it was from the State of Israel?
RK: Oh no. No, we didn’t know that. The planes that attacked us were unmarked.
CB: They were unmarked. What kind of aircraft were attacking you?
RK: They were French Mirage jets.
CB: So when the attack occurred, it was machine gun fire. Were bombs dropped?
RK: When the planes attacked, it was limited to machine gun fire, cannon fire, rocket fire, and they tossed some napalm at us too.
CB: And were the aircraft reinforced with watercraft in the attack?
RK: I think it would be a half an hour to forty-five minutes into the attack [that] the torpedo boats showed up. They fired five torpedoes at us and hit us with one. The USS America was going to send help for us, and they [the U.S. government] turned those pilots around. I believe LBJ did that personally. I guess once he found out who was attacking us [Israel], he turned our help around.
CB: Do you believe that the Israelis fully intended to sink the ship?
RK: I certainly do! Yes. As a matter of fact, one of the Israeli pilots actually radioed back to—I don’t know if it was Ashdod or Tel Aviv or where it was—but said that he would not participate in this attack because it was an American ship. And those transcriptions and that voice has been on TV a couple of times where he literally said that he wouldn’t attack, and he turned back. They told him to turn around [to pursue the attack], but he flew back to their headquarters. He was jailed for several years, and when he got out of jail he came over to this country. And he actually went straight to former Congressman Pete McCloskey, and told him his story: that he would not attack an American ship.
CB: I remember reading somewhere about some of the fellows on the LIBERTY trying to escape—trying to get a lifeboat or something. Walk me through that. Was there actually fire on the men who were trying to get off the ship? Am I remembering that correctly?
RK: You are. It would be Lieutenant Lloyd Peters that could tell that story about as well as anyone. Because he literally was going to testify at the court of inquiry that they fired on our lifeboats, and they literally did not want any lifeboats out there for anybody. They wanted us all dead. And so they had to get rid of those [lifeboats].
The torpedo hit I’m guessing about 30 feet from me, maybe 40. And then you know the story. As soon as I got done with my prayers, an audible voice came to me (maybe it wasn’t audible—maybe just to me). “Get down, and get down now!” is all I remember of it. And then from that point to the point of me being either pushed—or somehow I ended up on the steel deck with my nose right on the steel—and the torpedo exploded, and the shrapnel was flying through the air. It took awhile for the water to get in there. Not very long, but you could hear the shrapnel flying through the air. Killed all the men around me. There was only myself and two or three other guys that escaped from down in that area.
CB: You said 25 men died down in that area?
RK: 25 in that area. That would have been the second deck down, the third deck, and the fourth deck down. That torpedo took—I think the height of that hole was something like 30-some feet. And so it encompassed a lot of decks. And it took all of the security group personnel; that was most of the men that died down there.
CB: So, after the torpedo hit and you were still alive (you and a couple of others), then what happened?
RK: I heard the shrapnel flying through the air, and then the whole compartment became an instant swimming pool. I got up off the deck, and I think the water was probably to my shoulders and still rising. And a battle lantern (which all ships have on them that automatically come on when you lose power) was shining over the hatchway to the ladder that led to the deck above. I knew I had to get through that hatch and get to the ladder and get to the deck above to keep from drowning. And there were a lot of guys trying to get up the same ladder, of course. But several of us got up through there, and the only way we got through the hatchway was—they have what they call a scuttle hole in there. It’s just big enough for a man to slip through; a small hole in the middle of the hatch. And most of the guys who were up on the top deck came down to help out. And they were helping pull us through that hole.
I immediately headed towards the main deck. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible just like everybody else. [I was] slipping and sliding in the passageways. What I was slipping and sliding in was mainly water and blood. And when I got topside, Lieutenant George Golden gave me an order to turn around and go back down below and make sure everybody got out. And so I went back down below and hollered down in that dark hole—you could hear the water sloshing around and stuff like that—trying to get some answers from somebody, and nobody answered.
CB: So I would assume by what you said that many of the men and the captain thought the ship was going to sink.
RK: Yes. And that whole night we were in danger of sinking. The following morning when the sun just came over the horizon, the destroyer USS Davis came over the horizon and came up alongside of us and brought some men over. Those men went down below where the torpedo had hit and shored up those bulkheads to keep us from going to the bottom. According to the officers and the commanders, the captain, everybody else, it was never a question of were we going to sink; the question was “when?” So yes, had the USS Davis not come alongside and sent their men over to help us, we probably wouldn’t be here today.
CB: And that was at dawn the following morning?
RK: Yeah. The sun was coming over the horizon. I suppose it was 6:30 or 7:00.
CB: You said that during the attack that U.S. aircraft were launched to come to your assistance from a U.S. aircraft carrier?
RK: USS America, yeah. That’s the aircraft carrier. I believe also the USS Saratoga launched some, and they were turned around.
CB: So those planes never arrived at your location to help you. Somebody ordered those planes to go back to the ship and to not come to your assistance?
RK: That’s correct. It was either McNamara or Johnson; I’m not sure which one it was.
CB: So either President Lyndon Johnson or Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara?
RK: That’s right.
CB: Do you believe that it was an act of God that the ship stayed afloat?
RK: There’s no question in my mind. If you take into consideration the firepower that they had compared to what we had. I don’t think that we ever fired a shot that I can remember.
CB: Do you believe there was a concerted effort by the White House and members of Congress to cover up that attack?
RK: Yes. Matter of fact, if you were to talk with Phil Turney, he will tell you that he and several others of the LIBERTY crewmen were called into a room and told that if they ever talked about this, they would be imprisoned and fined a huge amount of money.
CB: They were told that by a Naval officer?
RK: Yes. An admiral.
CB: An admiral. So when you say that there was a cover-up, that must have involved a lot of different people. So you are talking about a chain of command starting from the White House and going all the way down the command structure of the Navy?
RK: I guess if I could make it short and concise, I could tell you that Captain Ward Boston (who conducted the Board of Inquiry) before he died left his testimony that he was told to make the outcome of that Board that the attack was an accident. He said he had no choice. That’s written down in black and white. He was forced.
CB: So the official story from Washington—they finally did acknowledge that it was Israel that launched this attack, but then they claimed it was an accident. Was that the official story?
RK: That was the official story. Captain Boston told me, and he wrote some handwritten letters to me about this stuff. And he literally said that he was forced to make the outcome what the administration wanted—I guess what LBJ wanted.
CB: Has there ever been any due recognition for the men of the LIBERTY? You mentioned decorations.
RK: Decorations and medals were given to us, such as the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Navy Cross, and even the Congressional Medal of Honor. The problem is that, as I understand it, medals like we earned are only earned if you are attacked by an enemy state. You don’t get them for friendly fire. They come from being attacked by an enemy. That’s never ever been straightened out. I’ve asked about it a lot of times.
CB: That’s a very good point. What is your feeling about the State of Israel now? Do you consider the State of Israel an ally of the United States?
RK: No, I think that they—I’m talking mainly about the leadership in Israel—are Zionists. Pastor, I’ll be really truthful on this. I’ve been involved with the church for many, many years. I played the piano for a church several times; I was on worship teams several times. And one of my biggest mistakes at a church right here in my hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming, was I told the story about the LIBERTY, and I told it truthfully. And I’ve got to tell you, things got pretty cold there at that church for me.
CB: Amazing. So you perceive that this infatuation that most Christians have with the State of Israel is misplaced?
RK: I certainly do! I really don’t believe that physical Israel has a thing to do with Biblical Israel at all.
CB: I totally agree with you, Ron.
Has there ever been any of the crew that you’ve talked with—survivors of this attack—have you guys ever put your minds together and come up with anything that you could figure why Israel attacked you like they did? We know it was not an accident. We know it was deliberate. We know that it was not only deliberate but they intended to sink the ship and kill the entire crew.
RK: And people have said that in very high positions. The [deputy] director of the National Security Agency back then—I think his name was Louis Tordella—he knew it was no accident. I can quote Dean Rusk who said in his book As I Saw It, “[I] didn't believe the Israelis then, and I don’t believe them now.” That’s in his book. And people in very high places, including Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer, said it was no accident. Could not have been.
I believe it was the intent of Israel to sink the LIBERTY [and] blame it on Cairo, which would draw the U.S. into the war.
CB: Ron, your story is a testament to God’s sovereign power and grace in your life and the lives of all of those crew members that survived. But I think it’s also a story that needs to be told in regard to what Israel did, and that there has been no accountability for what they did, which suggests that there is an evil nature in this that transcends politics.
RK: Oh absolutely. I think I’ve said in a couple of interviews that I believe on June 8, 1967, we looked Satan in the eye and lived to tell about it.
CB: I believe that’s true. And I think that the cover-up proves the evil nature of the offenders.
RK: Oh I believe that to the hilt.
CB: Thank you, Ron. I’m sure this interview will help a lot of people.