Letter to The Editor

A Tragic Personal Experience

My name is John Hrankowski of Rochester, New York. Fourty-four years ago I was a part of a historic Naval Battle that remains a mystery to this day. I’d like to share with your readers an experience that I will never forget as long as I live.

At the age of 19, I joined the United States Navy on 12-1-65. I was assigned to basic training at the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago, Illinois. After my basic training in March 1966, I was assigned and reported to the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), a 10,000 ton converted freighter that was used as an intelligence-gathering ship with a crew of 294. My duties were that of a Boiler man/Fireman and worked for the Chief Engineering Officer in the Log Room. I made three cruises on the Liberty to various parts of the Mediterranean Sea and we never encountered any problems.

On June 8 1967 we were in International waters off the coast of Gaza. It was during the time of the Six-day-war between Israel and her Middle Eastern neighbors. The United States took the position of being neutral. I was told that Israeli aircraft were circling the Liberty, apparently reconnaissance flights and our crew had waved at them assuming they were friendly.

It was a little before 2:00 pm and I had just come topside for a breath of fresh air. I had just noticed that our flag was unfurled and that it was a clear day and you could see for miles.

All of a sudden two of the Israeli planes started shooting. The Liberty was under attack. I was hit with flying shrapnel. It wasn’t life threatening, but enough to knock me down to the deck. I got up and went straight to my General Quarters station, the boiler-room.

Our orders were to light our number two (2) boiler to get steam and to get out of harm’s way but we were trapped and had no chance of getting away from our attackers. They hit us with rockets, cannon fire, machine gun fire, and napalm for over 25 minutes.

For some reason, the attack had stopped. We thought we were safe. A lull that lasted for about 20 minutes ended with an attack of three torpedo boats. They hit us with cannon fire, machine gun fire, and they shot five (5) torpedoes at us. One of the torpedoes hit us putting a large hole in the compartment next to ours. It was a nightmare that I have relived for thirty-five years… it lifted the ship up and set it down going into a ten degree list… killing 25 men instantly.

The attack stopped for a few minutes and resumed firing on anyone or anything moving topside of the ship. The Captain gave the Abandon Ship call and the last three remaining lifeboats left were thrown into the sea.

The Israeli Torpedo boats moved in and shot two of them and took one aboard their boat, an action that is against the Rules of the Geneva Convention.

The torpedo boats finally turned and headed out to sea. After about 25 minutes an Israeli helicopter came on the scene and we thought it was the end. The helicopter was loaded with armed Israeli troops. We thought we would have to fight to the death with them, but the helicopters turned and went away.

Nine minutes into the attack we got a message out to the sixth fleet that we were under attack. We were told that in the unlikely event that if we needed help it would take 10 minutes to get jets to us. The promised American fighters never did arrive. Despite our fears throughout the night, the attack was over.

Several days later, the Liberty’s Lt. Commander David Lewis of Maine was called to the cabin of Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Geis of the USS America. The admiral swore Lewis to secrecy about what he had to say until after the admiral’s death.

“He said he had received our message for help” Lewis says. He was astonished by it, and immediately launched aircraft and then notified Washington. Washington got back on the line in the person of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and ordered the planes recalled.” Geis reassured Washington that conventional arms and no nuclear armaments were involved and ordered the planes re-launched. “Again”, Geis reportedly said, “McNamara ordered the aircraft recalled.” In 1997 McNamara told the AMERICAN LEGION MAGAZINE: “I have no recollection of any such action by me, and I think it is highly unlikely.” Geis requested confirmation of the order, Lewis says. And President Lyndon Baines Johnson came on the line with the command and the comment that he didn’t give a damn if the ship sunk. He would not embarrass his ally Israel! Lewis was amazed. He didn’t say anything except “Thank you, Admiral,” he says.

Lt. Commander David Lewis first told the story of the encounter during taping for a 1992 television show, after Geis had died. There was little response to his story, Lewis says, echoing what many Liberty crewmen say today. People just don’t care.

The attack lasted over two hours with 34 killed in action and 172 wounded in action out of a complement of 294 men. There was a Naval Court of inquiry and we were told to never speak of the attack to anyone with a threat of prison, fines or both. The crew was then split up and reassigned to various duties within the Navy.

To this day no congressional investigation has ever been done. No Congress person has ever questioned the attack or questioned us about the attack. The incident was white washed from the beginning and remains an open sore with Israel and the United States to this day.

If you would like more information about the attack on the Liberty, please go to our website http://www.ussliberty.com or you can read the book that Commander Jim Ennes wrote, “Assault on the Liberty”, available on the website.

All we crew men would like to be able to have Congress do its job and have a Congressional Investigation releasing all the classified information from that time in history and let us tell our story as it happened. We would like the same treatment as the USS Stark, the USS Cole and just recently after 56 years the USS Indianapolis received, and let us get on with our lives. I don’t think it too much to ask at this time in our history.

If this terrible act of aggression against the United States Navy passes without disciplinary actions against the attackers because of political maneuvering, can we Americans say that we support the men in our military who are willing to die to protect our country? If any reader of the newspaper can help us in any way, it would be deeply appreciated.

 

John Hrankowski (1946-2011)

USS Liberty Survivor

45 Drumcliff Way

Rochester, NY 14612

 

Hrankowski, John M.(1946-2011)

Greece: March 22, 2011. He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann Natalie-Hrankowski; son, David P. Hrankowski; sister, Mary Ann (Donald) Weather; brother, Robert (Patricia) Hrankowski; in-laws, Matthew (Livia) Natalie; beloved nieces and nephews; faithful pup “Baci”. John was a survivor of the assault on the U.S.S. Liberty, and a recipient of the Purple Heart. Anyone who inquired John told the story of the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty and considered all he met his friend. A highlight of his life was the dedication on 6/12/2010 of a Memorial Monument at Ontario Beach Park for the Ship and crew sponsored by the VFW Healy Post. He was a life member of the Vietnam Veteran Chapter 20 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Thomas Healy Post 16, Liberty Veterans Association and the Knights of Columbus Cardinal Slipyj Council #10949. John remained faithful to his church, family, with a special devotion to Blessed Pope John Paul II. John retired from the Monroe County Sheriff Office in 1989 Courts Division.

The family will receive friends on Thursday 9:30 AM at the lower level of St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, where his Funeral Liturgy will be offered at 10:30 AM. Special gratitude to his great physicians; Drs. Tim Mathew, David Cheeran, Stephen Ettinghausen, Paul Bernstein, G. Oleyourryk, James Maxwell, John Phelan and Thomas Arnone. Donations may be made to St. Josaphat’s Church or a charity of your choice in his memory. Interment, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/democratandchronicle/obituary.aspx?n=john-m-hrankowski&pid=149561939

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