Devin Nunes and the USS Liberty

Devin Nunes and the USS Liberty, by David Martin. February 3, 2018.

“Wow, a gutsy congressman not afraid to let the truth hang out on this delicate issue.”

Yes, the subject of the quote is Devin Gerald Nunes, the Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 22nd congressional district in the Central Valley, but the act of courage for which he is being praised is not the creation of the now-famous four-page memorandum concerning the nefarious actions of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.  Rather, the quote is from dissident retired CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, in reference to the remarks that Nunes made as he pinned a Silver Star on long-retired Navy Petty Officer Terry Halbardier on May 27, 2009: “The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent he needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country.”

McGovern writes further: Nunes got that right. Despite the many indignities the Liberty crew has been subjected to, the mood in Visalia [California] was pronouncedly a joyous one of Better (42 years) Late Than Never. And, it did take some time for the moment to sink in.

Given all they have been through, the Liberty survivors and other veterans who joined Halbardier to celebrate his belated receipt of the Silver Star on May 27, 2009, can be forgiven for having doubted that the day of the hero’s recognition would ever come.

So what was it that Halbadier and his fellow crewmen on the Liberty crew have been through, and why did it take rare courage for Nunes to say what he did?  Taking the first question first, we quote the words of Halbardier’s commendation: The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Electronic Technician Third Class James Terry Halbardier, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving on board the U.S.S. LIBERTY (AGTR-5), on 8 June 1967.  The USS LIBERTY was attacked by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on the fourth day of the SIX DAY WAR.  Petty officer Halbardier, without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, fearlessly and repeatedly exposed himself to overwhelming rocket and machinegun fire to repair a damaged antenna in an open deck area during heavy aerial attacks.  Aware that all of the ship’s transmitting antennas had been destroyed and that communication with higher authority depended upon antenna repair, Petty Officer Halbardier risked his life to run connecting coaxial cable across open decks from the antenna to the main transmitter room.  His efforts allowed the ship to establish communications with distant elements of the SIXTH Fleet and call for assistance.  Despite being wounded, Patty Officer Halbardier ignored his injuries until the antenna had been repaired and the call for help had been received and acknowledged.  His courageous actions were critical in alerting distant Navy commanders to the ship’s need for assistance and were instrumental in saving he ship and the hundreds of lives.  Petty Officer Halbardier’s outstanding display of decisive leadership, unrelenting perseverance, and loyal devotion to duty reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

McGovern fleshes the story out some more with his August 17, 2014, article, eulogizing Halbardier: On June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israeli military attacked the USS Liberty, an American spy ship which had been monitoring Israeli transmissions about the conflict. Intercepted Israeli communications indicated that the goal was to sink the Liberty and leave no survivors.

Warplanes and torpedo boats had already killed 34 and wounded 174, when Halbardier slid over the Liberty’s napalm-glazed deck to jury-rig an antenna and get an SOS off to the Sixth Fleet.  The Israelis intercepted the SOS and broke off the attack immediately. In effect, Halbardier prevented the massacre of all 294 onboard. Still, the infamy of the attack on the Liberty was two-fold.

First, the Liberty, a virtually defenseless intelligence collection platform prominently flying an American flag in international waters, came under deliberate attack by Israeli aircraft and three 60-ton Israeli torpedo boats off the coast of the Sinai on a cloudless June afternoon during the six-day Israeli-Arab war. Second, President Lyndon Johnson called back carrier aircraft dispatched to defend the Liberty lest Israel be embarrassed, the start of an unconscionable cover-up, including top Navy brass, that persists to this day.

In contrast with Halbardier’s actions, those of the top Navy brass, we see, have hardly been in “the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” and Senator John McCain’s top-brass father, Admiral John McCain, was a leader of the cover-up.  One can’t help thinking that there is a connection between that fact and the political success and wonderful press that McCain-the-lesser has enjoyed through the years.

So why was it courageous for Nunes to say that the government has kept quiet for too long about Halbardier’s heroism?  Author Phillip F. Nelson, in the dedication portion of his 2017 book, Remember the Liberty, gives us a pretty good idea: One man who, miraculously, survived the attack, deserves special recognition:  Terry Halbardier’s heroic action was finally recognized with a Silver Star forty-two years after the attack, in 2009.  The delay was the direct result of Lyndon B. Johnson’s determination to cover up not only the incident itself, due to his own cowardly actions, but also Israel’s direct responsibility for the 34 Americans killed and the 174 wounded.  Of the hundreds of medals awarded as a result of the attack on the Liberty, this was the first one that even mentioned the fact that it was Israel which attacked the ship. (Emphasis added)

Such is the state of things in our occupied country these days that it takes great courage for an American politician not only to produce the sort of [FISA Memo] that Nunes has produced, but also to utter the smallest word that might be taken as critical of the treachery of the Jewish-supremacist state of Israel and of our sold-out leaders. (David Martin, February 2, 2018)