On this day forty-nine years ago the American electronic surveillance vessel USS Liberty was monitoring signals traffic in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean, when she was attacked by Israeli fighters, which strafed, bombed and napalmed the Liberty, killing nine crewmen and wounding others. Their munitions expended, the planes broke off the attack, and the Liberty radioed for help. The nearby 6th Fleet twice scrambled fighters, but each time they were recalled within minutes, and about 30 minutes after that the Liberty was attacked by three Israeli torpedo boats, which almost sank the vessel with torpedo hits. They then closed and strafed the vessel, including life rafts that were being launched. According to the Israeli military, only then did they identify the ship as American and left the scene at 3:30, returning about an hour later to offer help, which the Liberty refused. 34 crewmen were dead and 174 wounded.
The Israelis immediately apologized for what they claimed was an accident, and this explanation was immediately accepted by President Lyndon Johnson, though many others in the government were appalled and believed the attack to have been deliberate. Surviving Liberty crew were instructed never to talk about the incident under threat of court martial, and while many received decorations, all but one citation said nothing about the identity of the attacker. Captain William McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, but rather than being awarded the decoration in the White House by the President, as is traditional, he received it from the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized ceremony at the Washington Naval Yard.
The Navy conducted by far the briefest investigation of a naval disaster in modern American history and despite immense evidence to the contrary concluded that the attack had been an accident. A half century and much more evidence later it remains the official policy of both the Israeli and American governments that it was.