A memorial plaque to the 208 Navy sailors killed and wounded in an attack by the Israeli military in 1967 has quietly taken its place among the plaques and memorials at Heroes Park, three years after the Palm Coast City Council killed a different version of the plaque because of its reference to Israel and a deceptive presentation to the council.
The installation a few weeks ago is a belated victory for Ernie Gallo, a survivor of the attack on the USS Liberty and an 18-year Palm Coast resident who’s sought for years to honor the crew of his ship and its survivors, who were awarded 208 Purple Hearts and other decorations. City Council member Jack Howell, who had opposed the council’s rejection of the memorial in 2017, also had a hand in the installation, which was carried out by the city’s public works department but with all materials paid for privately.
“I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m just delighted, beside myself, it’s wonderful,” Gallo said. “We haven’t planned any kind of ribbon cutting or anything like that because of the virus.” He’s still hoping that some ceremonial event can be held in September.
Gallo’s victory came at a price. “One thing that’s omitted is ‘attacked by Israel.’ The plaque has other benefits that I’m thrilled about,” he said. “I’m disappointed because it is a fact of life.”
The old plaque, “Dedicated to the Brave Men of the USS Liberty,” referred to the 34 Navy and Marine Corps members killed and 174 wounded “In An Attack By the Israeli Navy and Air Force” on June 8, 1967, “In the Mediterranean Sea.” It also included a quote by Henry Ward Beecher: “They Hover As A Cloud Of Witnesses Above This Nation.” None of the contents of the plaque are in dispute–neither by the Israeli government nor by the American government. The ship was in international waters. The attack was illegal, its motives still in dispute. President Johnson at the time thought Soviet warplanes had bombed it and scrambled American warplanes, triggering a near-confrontation with the Soviets. Israel eventually apologized for it and claimed it mistook the ship for an Egyptian vessel in the midst of that year’s Arab-Israeli war.
The new plaque, however, sanitizes the facts and introduces an error. It eliminates any reference to Israel or to an “attack,” and states it’s “In honor of the crew of the USS Liberty — AGTR 5 in recognition of their courageous and faithful service for military action on June 8 1967.” The ship was not, in fact, involved in military action, though it was a spy ship. The new wording, severed from its previous context, suggests that the Liberty crew members were killed and wounded as part of a military confrontation they were intentionally engaged in, which was not the case.
But its surviving crew displayed remarkable grit and valor as they managed to keep the eviscerated vessel afloat as it was escorted by other American ships to Malta. “I guess I can live with the plaque not having attacked by Israel on it, because it says some very wonderful things about the crew, and that’s fine with me,” Gallo said.
Monuments and memorials for Heroes Park, just west of the Flagler County Public Library on Palm Coast Parkway, are not normally approved by the City Council. The council established its Beautification Committee in part to do that. The older plaque in 2017 had been before the committee on numerous occasion, its design, wording and emplacement all vetted, until the committee approved it unanimously for installation at Heroes Park.
Then-City Manager Jim Landon intervened. He had received emails from then-U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’s office raising questions about the plaque’s wording. Landon then brought the matter of the installation to the council’s attention. He did not refer to the communications from DeSantis’s office, and he claimed that the proposed plaque, if approved, would be a change in policy, as it would be commemorating a specific event, and refer to non-residents of Palm Coast. “We have never recognized specific events,” Landon said at the time.
Both claims were inaccurate. The 9/11 memorial, for example, recognizes a specific event with no direct connection to Palm Coast. A memorial to victims of PTSD had gone up soon before the Liberty controversy–itself recognizing victims in general, without naming specific victims with direct connections to Palm Coast. Another plaque commemorates Filipinos and Americans who fought as allies during World War II. Still, based on Landon’s claims, the council voted unanimously to kill the Liberty plaque’s installation.
“The plaque has no mention of the ship being attacked by Israel,” Howell said, “and that I understand was the rub that Mr. Landon felt would be politically incorrect to have that on the plaque, and he was the guy to put the thumbs down when it was first proposed.”
Howell last December made a brief speech to the council when he passed his own Purple Heart around, but did not ask for the plaque to be restored. That took place behind the scenes. “Based upon the fact that these things were awarded to the crew, they should be recognized,” Howell said. “Mr. Gallo who is a resident of our city and has fought for this remembrance of the crew, I think it’s justified. I had passed to each of my colleagues the purple hart, so they could see the medal, and that was it.” Of the attack itself, he said: “There were several blunders on everybody’s part–the Israeli part, our part, form what I understand, the ship shouldn’t have been where it was and there was a question of the recognition of the ship.” (In “Command and Control,” his 2013 book on the United States’ error-prone nuclear-weapons program, Eric Schlosser wrote that “urgent messages warning the USS Liberty to remain at least one hundred miles off the coast of Israel were mistakenly routed to American bases in the Philippines, Morocco, and Naryland.” The Liberty never received those warnings.)
The restoration of the plaque was “a non-issue,” City Manager Matt Morton said. “It usually doesn’t go to council. I don’t know why it was surrounded by politics or questions back then.” Morton said another vote by the council negating the 2017 vote was not necessary. “I had council support to follow the BEAC process,” he said, referring to the beautification committee. The language of the plaque was altered–Howell wrote the language, Gallo said–and it was installed.
“The new plaque, however, sanitizes the facts and introduces an error. It eliminates any reference to Israel or to an “attack,” and states it’s “In honor of the crew of the USS Liberty — AGTR 5 in recognition of their courageous and faithful service for military action on June 8 1967.” The ship was not, in fact, involved in military action, though it was a spy ship.
As also noted in the article, 208 Purple Hearts were awarded. Requirements for awarding the Purple Heart in the 1960’s state that the wounds sustained must have been received in military conflict. Seems like they had to say the ship was involved in a military action in order to award the Purple Hearts.
Of course the truth was scrubbed. These days, perception and agenda is more important than truth.
Merrill S Shapiro says
Wow! A monument to anti-Semitism right here in Palm Coast!
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 176 men lost on the USS Hobson on April 26, 1952. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 129 men lost on the USS Thresher on April 10, 1963. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 99 men lost on the USS Scorpion in May, 1968. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 103 men lost on the USS Bennington on May 26, 1954. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 74 men lost on the USS Frank E. Evans on June 3, 1969. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
Note that Heroes Park contains no monument to the 47 men lost on the USS Iowa on April 19, 1989. Why? Because there were no Jews on whom to blame that terrible loss.
There is no need to “sanitize” the sad saga of the USS Liberty from Israeli responsibility. The following Boards of Inquiry found that the USS Liberty was in a war zone and unprepared for the hostilities between Egypt and Israel in its area:
U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry of June 1967
Joint Chief of Staff’s Report of June 1967.
CIA Intelligence Memorandums of June 1967
Clark Clifford Report of July 1967
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony during hearings of the 1967 Foreign Aid Authorization bill, July 1967
House Armed Services Committee Investigation of 1971
The NSA History Report of 1981
Fact Finding Inquiry by Colonel Ram Ron (“Ram Ron Report”—June 1967)
Preliminary Inquiry (Hearing) by Examining Judge Yeshayahu Yerushalmi (“Yerushalmi Report”—July 1967) (Adjudication of IDF negligence complaints.)
Historical Report “The Liberty Incident”—IDF History Department Report (1982)
Merrill S Shapiro–You said it all. This is a black mark on Palm Coast. So much for Jack Howell’s previous apology for pushing the insistent Anti Semitic agendas of certain private parties that the City Council had the decency to shoot down multiple times before.
Jack Howell says
I think you need to understand one key point. That point is that the Congressional Medal of Honor along with the Navy Cross, and Purple Heart is only awarded for being in combat. Congress had to declare that the USS Liberty was indeed in combat during the time the ship was attacked! Also, keep in mind that Mr. Gallow was on that ship in 1967 during the attack and is a resident of our city. The plaque is to recognize the valor of the lightly armed crew. Enough is enough!
Norman Roy says
This is NOT anti-Jewish! Israeli Armed Forces ATTACKED the USS Liberty in THREE separate ATTACKS in International Waters! Israel stated that the three attacks were a mistake! Israel PAiD compensation to the US Navy and crew members(dead and alive)!
Is time for the US Navy to name a New warship for the USS Liberty!
Elliot Hoffa says
Read History!! Israel stated the three(3) Attacks on the USS Liberty were a MISTAKE! Israel PAID compensation to the US Navy and the crew members(dead and alive)! Time for you to be a REAL American and show RESPECT for the Americans Killed and Wounded during this Terrible Mistake Attack by the Israeli Armed Forces!
Why are you opposed to a memorial for American soldiers who were killed when their ship was attacked?
Roy Longo says
Mr. Shapiro, I agree with everything you said about all the other tragedies on US Navel Ships. I don’t know enough to comment on the antisemitism. However, my issues are with the City of Palm Coast. By allowing this plaque, there will now be a flood of requests to put plaques in Hero’s Park. Not every police officer killed in the line of duty has a plaque in the park, but every LOCAL police officer killed in the line of duty should be there.
The same way not every military tragedy should be honored with a plaque. We honor our military losses several times a year at Hero’s Park. We do not need plaques for every military loss.
The word Hero has lost it’s meaning in our world. When we started calling victims of tragic events Heros, we started watering down the word. Adding a plaque for every military loss waters down the meaning of the park.
Rick G says
It is despicable to alter the actual facts of history and it is being done here. Israel took responsibility for the attack… that should be it. It was a mistake. A horrible mistake that hopefully the Israelis learned a value lesson. Much like our Army at My Lai.. we hopefully have learned a value lesson.
Gary Goodin says
No, no, no no!!
Don’t try to sanitize history as when it pertains to Jewish war crimes. I’ve read the accounts from beginning to end of this attack and it is absolutely clear the Israelis knew way in advance whose ship this was. No one is critical of any Jews or anything like that, not at all, though any Israel criticism is labeled,”anti-Semitic. People are tired of that b.s. also. Israel has taken over American politics and politicians are scared to death to oppose any Israeli wishes, money or otherwise. This attack was no fuckin mistake and anyone who listens to testimony from beginning to end knows this. Israel uses our money, $10,000,000 a day of our hard earned tax money to steal, spy, influence, and hush up those who dare to point out their criminal activity. When is this going to stop?
Bless your heart, Gary Goodin!
You said it loud and clear.
If this was a Syrian or even a Saudi Arabian “mistake” that whole country would have been burnt to the ground. No one would have come out alive.
@Ritchie–Really? Do we have a monument to those slaughtered in the 9/11 attacks anywhere in Palm Coast? Any plaque to commemorate Taylor Force or any of the Americans killed as result of Palestinian or Extremist Islamic terror attacks? Any special brass-anything to commemorate those killed by Taliban forces in Afghanistan?I could on on but I think that suffices to defeat your…point.
Here is a news article about the attack: https://www.veteranstoday.com/2017/07/11/but-sir-its-an-american-ship-never-mind-hit-her-when-israel-attacked-uss-liberty/
The USS Liberty incident was a tragic mistake. After 53 years of investigation there is zero evidence that the Israelis knew Beforehand that this was an American ship. Furthermore, nobody has presented a compelling motive as to why the Israelis would have wanted this ship to sink.
The Israelis had warned the international community to keep shops out of the region for fear that they could be hit in the crossfire of battle. It is beyond dispute that the USS Liberty ignored these warnings. Furthermore, Israeli pilots and ground crew were stressed and exhausted from several days of ferocious fighting and mistakes occur under these circumstances.
The Israeli government immediately apologized after this attack and offered compensation.
I have no problem with this memorial but it’s a tragedy that the sinking of the USS Liberty has become a rallying cry for overtly anti-Semitic individuals and hate groups.
If Mr Gallo wants to truly honor the memory of his fallen comrades perhaps he should end his ties to extremist right wing individuals and tone down his support of various other screwball conspiracy theories.
How long before the crazies come and tear it down?
Bill C says
typical sanitizing of Isreal’s image. right now they are annexing the West Bank, they are holding the Palestinians in Gaza in an open air concentration camp, but speak out about these injustices and you’re smeared as “anti-semetic”.