Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Naval Academy alumni are scheduled to dedicate plaque to mates killed in attack

The Baltimore Sun

It's been 40 years since Israel attacked the U.S. Navy spy ship USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and injuring 172 more in what both governments say was an accident.

Today, Naval Academy alumni are scheduled to dedicate a plaque in memory of two classmates who were killed in the attack, which occurred June 8, 1967, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Liberty incident, which remains controversial, occurred on the fourth day of what has come to be known as the Six-Day War.

Today's ceremony will be at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the plaque will be on display honoring Stephen Spencer Toth, academy class of 1963, and Philip McCutcheon Armstrong, Jr., class of 1953.

Naval Academy graduates from 1953, 1954 and 1963 collectively donated $25,000 to pay for the plaque in memory of Toth and Armstrong.

The 10-by-18 inch plaque will be placed on the "memory wall," at the north end of the stadium, said Cristos Zrips, a Naval Academy graduate and president of the class of 1953.

The plaque dedication ceremony is one of several events in the area to honor the 34 crew members who were killed that day. The USS Liberty Veterans Association will hold memorial services at the Navy Memorial in Washington and another at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia today.

For many, memories of the incident are still fresh.

Liberty crew members said the intelligence ship was not heavily armed, and was merely collecting intelligence.

"We listened," said W. Mark Kram, a crew member who survived the attack. "That's all we did was listen to communication."

Kram remembered Israeli aircraft flying over the ship all morning long. He said the planes flew so close to the ship that he and other crewmembers could see one of the pilots and the pilot could see them.

That morning, the crew had finished their "quarters drill" - procedures to be used when under attack - which they performed three to four times a week.

Suddenly, some Israeli planes started shooting at the ship. Kramer said he did not realize what was happening until he went outside and saw the wounded. Soon, the ship was struck by a torpedo.

Crew members managed to keep the ship afloat. It limped back to port and was repaired.

Four decades after the attack, there is still disagreement over whether it was intentional.

Some crew members who survived say it appeared to be intentional, while both governments say it was a case of mistaken identity and that the Israelis thought the ship was Egyptian.

"Almost all the crew believes it was a deliberate attack," said W. Mark Kram, a surviving crew member. "I don't know how it could have been a mistake."

"I know for a fact that we were flying our flag," Kram said. " ... I know that flag was flying all morning."

Another crew member agreed with Kram's account.

"It was a bright sunny day," said Ernest Gallo, another crewmember who survived. "The flag was prominently exposed."

In fact, the flag was shot down at some point, Gallo said.

Judge A. Jay Cristol, author of The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship said the debate about the flag is "red herring" and "non issue." The Israeli pilots would not have been able to see the ship's flag, Cristol said.

"The flag was not visualized by the pilots," Cristol said. "You couldn't see a flag that size beyond 1200 feet ... the flag was not an issue on the air attacks."

The torpedo boats were too far away to see it, he said.

"Torpedo boats stopped almost a mile away and all they could see a ship," Cristol said. They couldn't see the flag or the markings on the boat."

Cristol blamed the incident on a series of missteps and miscommunications by both American and Israeli governments, and believes the attack was nothing more than an unfortunate accident.

Crew members see it otherwise and are pressing for a new investigation.

"The attack was deliberate, and we could prove it if we ever had our chance," Gallo said.

USS Liberty

For more information on the USS Liberty incident:

The U.S. National Security Agency finished its final review of materials related to the Liberty incident and has made the materials available to public along with other audio and transcript records on their Web site at

The Liberty Veteran's Association provides numerous transcripts, documents and information about the crew members on its Web site www.

Judge A. Jay Cristol provides additional information about the Liberty incident on his Web site

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad