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Unfortunately, it had been destroyed during the emergency destruction
and the Saratoga operator was giving him a hard time about it. "Listen to
the goddamned rockets, you son-of-a-bitch," the Liberty radioman
screamed into his microphone.


178
"He's hit her a lot," reported an Israeli Army commander at El Arish,
where the war crimes were taking place. "There's black smoke, there's an
oil slick in the water."
Then the planes attacked the bridge in order to blind her, killing
instantly the ship's executive officer. With the Liberty now deaf, blind,
and silenced, unable to call for help and unable to move, the Israeli pilots
next proceeded to kill her. Designed to punch holes in the toughest
tanks, the Israeli shells tore through the Liberty's steel plating like hot
nails through butter, exploding into jagged bits of shrapnel and
butchering men deep in their living quarters.
"Menachem, is he screwing her?" headquarters asked one of the
pilots, excitedly.


As the Israelis continued their slaughter, neither they nor the Liberty
crew had any idea that witnesses were present high above. Until now.
According to information, interviews, and documents obtained for Body
of Secrets, for nearly thirty-five years NSA has hidden the fact that one of
its planes was overhead at the time of the incident, eavesdropping on
what was going on below. The intercepts from that plane, which answer
some of the key questions about the attack, are among NSA's deepest
secrets.
Two hours before the attack, the Navy EC-121 ferret had taken off
from Athens and returned to the eastern Mediterranean for its regular
patrol. Now it was flying a diagonal track from Crete and Cyprus to El
Arish and back. "When we arrived within intercept range of the battles
already in progress," said Marvin Nowicki, "it was apparent that the
Israelis were pounding the Syrians on the Golan Heights. Soon all our
recorders were going full blast, with each position intercepting signals on
both receivers [Hebrew and Arabic]. The evaluator called out many
airborne intercepts from Arab and Israeli aircraft. We were going crazy
trying to cope with the heavy activity."
Then, a few hours later, about the time the air attack was getting
under way, Nowicki heard one of the other Hebrew linguists excitedly
trying to get his attention on the secure intercom. "Hey, Chief," the
linguist shouted, "I've got really odd activity on UHF. They mentioned an
American flag. I don't know what's going on." Nowicki asked the linguist
for the frequency and "rolled up to it." "Sure as the devil," said Nowicki,
"Israeli aircraft were completing an attack on some object. I alerted the
evaluator, giving him sparse details, adding that we had no idea what
was taking place." For a while the activity subsided.


Deep down in the NSA spaces Terry McFarland, his head encased in


179
earphones, was vaguely aware of flickers of light coming through the
bulkhead. He had no idea they were armor-piercing tracer bullets slicing
through the Liberty's skin. The "flickers" were accompanied by a strange
noise that sounded like chains being pulled across the bottom of the
ship. Then McFarland looked up to see "Red" Addington, a seaman, race
down the ladder from above with blood running down his right leg.
"Somebody's up there shootin' at us," he said.
When the attack started, Larry Weaver had run to his general
quarters station but it was located on an old helicopter pad that left him
exposed and vulnerable. He grabbed for a dazed shipmate and pushed
him into a safe corner. "I said, 'Fred, you've got to stay here, you've just
got to because he's coming up the center,' " Weaver recalled. "I yelled,
screaming at him probably, and finally he said he would stay." Then the
only place Weaver could find to hide was a small chock, the kind used to
hold lines. "I got in the fetal position," he said, "and before I closed my
eyes I looked up and I saw the American flag and that was the last thing
I saw before I was hit. And I closed my eyes just waiting for hell's horror
to hit me. And I was hit by rocket and cannon fire that blew two and a
half feet of my colon out and I received over one hundred shrapnel
wounds. It blew me up in the air about four and a half, five feet. And just
blood everywhere. It felt like a really hot electrical charge going through
my whole body."
Stan White raced for the enclosed NSA spaces, cutting through the
sick bay. "Torn and mutilated bodies were everywhere," he said. "Horrible
sight! On the mess deck I ran into one of my ETs [electronics
technicians], he had a hole in his shoulder and one you could see
through in his arm. The sound of the shells and rockets was
overwhelming and I can only tell you that I didn't know a person could be
so terrified and still move."
Lloyd Painter was also trying to get to his general quarters station on
the mess decks. "I was running as fast as I could," he recalled. "By the
time I got to the Chief's Lounge, the entrance through the lounge to the
mess docks, I saw [Petty Officer John C.] Spicher, our postal clerk, lying
there cut in half with strafing."
As soon as the Mirages pulled away they were replaced by Super
Mystère fighters which first raked the ship from stern to bow and then
crisscrossed it broadside. A later analysis would show 821 separate hits
on the hull and superstructure. Now in addition to rocket, cannon, and
machine-gun fire, the Mystères attacked with thousand-pound bombs
and napalm. Deafening explosions tore through the ship and the bridge
disappeared in an orange-and-black ball. Lying wounded by shrapnel,
his blood draining into his shoe, was Commander McGonagle. Seconds
later they were back. Flesh fused with iron as more strafing was followed
by more rockets which were followed by napalm.


180
"He's going down low with napalm all the time," shouted someone
with the Israeli Southern Command at El Arish, where soldiers were
hiding the slaughtered prisoners under the sand.
Crisscrossing the ship almost every forty-five seconds, the Mystères
let loose more napalm”silvery metallic canisters of jellied gasoline that
turned the ship into a crematorium. Not satisfied, the flight leader
radioed to his headquarters. "It would be a mitzvah [blessing] if we can
get a flight with iron bombs," he said. "Otherwise, the Navy's going to get
here and they're going to do the shooting." With the iron bombs, the pilot
was hoping for the coup de grace”to sink the ship before the Navy
arrived to finish her off. In World War II, during the battle of Midway,
American dive-bombers sank three Japanese aircraft carriers with such
bombs in only ten minutes.
One of the quartermasters raced down to the mess deck. "The
captain's hurt," he yelled to Lieutenant Painter, "and the operations
officer was dead, and the executive officer is mortally wounded." Painter
charged up to the bridge.
"Pay attention," one of the pilots told his headquarters. "The ship's
markings are Charlie Tango Romeo 5," he said, indicating that the
Liberty's identification markings were CTR-5. (Actually, they were
GTR-5.) Then, with the American flag having been shot down during
earlier passes, he added, "There's no flag on her."
"Leave her," replied headquarters.
As the last fighter departed, having emptied out its on-board armory
and turned the Liberty's hull into a flaming mass of gray Swiss cheese,
sailors lifted mutilated shipmates onto makeshift stretchers of pipe frame
and chicken wire. Damage control crews pushed through passageways of
suffocating smoke and blistering heat, and the chief petty officer's lounge
was converted into a macabre sea of blood-soaked mattresses and
shattered bodies. A later analysis said it would take a squadron of fifteen
or more planes to do such damage as was inflicted on the ship.


At 2:24, minutes after the air attack, horror once again washed over
the crew. Charles Rowley, the ship's photographer, was lying in the
wardroom being treated for shrapnel wounds when armor-piercing
bullets began penetrating the bulkhead. Through the porthole he saw
three sixty-two-ton motor torpedo boats rapidly approaching in attack
formation. Closing in at about forty knots, each of the French-built boats
had a crew of fifteen and were heavily armed with a 40mm cannon, four
20mm cannons, and two torpedoes. Like a firing squad, they lined up in
a row and pointed their guns and torpedo tubes at the Liberty's
starboard hull. Seeing that the Israeli fighters had destroyed the
American flag, Commander McGonagle ordered the signalman to quickly


181
hoist another”this one the giant "holiday ensign," the largest on the
ship. Almost immediately, the boats opened up with a barrage of cannon
fire. One armor-piercing bullet slammed through the ship's chart house
and into the pilothouse, coming to rest finally in the neck of a young
helmsman, killing him instantly. Three other crewmen were slaughtered
in this latest shower of steel.


Back up in the EC-121 ferret, the Hebrew linguist called Nowicki
again. "He told me about new activity and that the American flag is being
mentioned again. I had the frequency but for some strange reason,
despite seeing it on my spectrum analyzer, couldn't hear it on my
receiver, so I left my position to join him to listen at his position. I heard
a couple of references to the flag during an apparent attack. The
attackers weren't aircraft; they had to be surface units (we later found
out at USA-512J it was the Israeli motor torpedo boats attacking the
Liberty). Neither [the other Hebrew linguist] nor I had ever heard MTB
attacks in voice before, so we had no idea what was occurring below us. I
advised the evaluator; he was as mystified as we were."


"Stand by for torpedo attack, starboard side," McGonagle shouted
frantically into the announcing system. The Israelis were ready for the
kill. At 2:37 P.M., the safety plug was pulled from a 19-inch German-
made torpedo on Motor Torpedo Boat 203. Seconds later it sped from its
launcher and took direct aim at the Liberty's, NSA spaces. Four other
torpedoes”more than enough to sink the largest aircraft carrier”were
also launched. Had all or most of them hit their mark, the Liberty's
remaining life would have been measured in minutes. Through a miracle,
only one struck home. But that hit was devastating.
Down in the NSA spaces, as the sound of shells hitting the hull grew
louder, Petty Officer Ronnie Campbell jammed a sheet of paper into his
typewriter and started pounding out a letter to his wife. "Dear Eileen," he
started, "you wouldn't believe what's happening to us . . ."
Nearby, Bryce Lockwood had been summoned to help carry the
ditching bags up to the main deck and throw them overboard. He
stepped from the NSA spaces out into the passageway and a few seconds
later, he said, "There was just a”I have the sense of a large object, and
then a tremendous flash and explosion, just a sheet of flame. It was the
torpedo”I was less than ten feet from it. The first thought that crossed
my mind”'Well, it looks like it's over with. I guess I'm coming home,
Lord. At least Lois and the kids are taken care of.' There were twenty-five
men that were killed all around me." The torpedo struck dead center in
the NSA spaces, killing nearly everyone inside, some by the initial blast
and others by drowning”including Ronnie Campbell, who never finished


182
his letter. "The whole irony," said Lockwood, "is that that Israeli torpedo
struck within just a few feet of the Star of David flag that had been taped
to the starboard bulkhead."
Frank Raven of G Group later talked to several of the few survivors
from the NSA spaces. "They told me that they saw the torpedo ... in the
room with them. The torpedo came right through the side of the ship
before it exploded”they saw it before it exploded. They had the torpedo
in the room with them. It came right through the side of the ship and
they jumped behind desks and things of that sort and it went off."
Down on the mess deck, where many of the wounded were being
treated, Donald W. Pageler had just finished giving blood. Following the
torpedo-attack warning, someone told him to throw himself across the
wounded. "I did just as I was told," he said.
Stan White heard the announcement just as he was about to go down
a hatch. "We knelt down and braced ourselves against the bulkheads
and waited. You could hear the shells from the torpedo boats hitting the
ship”seemed like a long time but wasn't, I'm sure. And then the torpedo
hit. The ship was lifted up out of the water somewhat, the place filled
with smoke, and the lights went out. I was praying before it hit, and after
it hit I concluded the prayer with 'Please take care of my wife and two
little children.' We had kids late in our marriage and I thought how little
time I had had with them."
At the moment of the announcement, Larry Weaver, having had his
colon blown out by a rocket, was lying on a table in sick bay. "I could feel
a lot of warmth from the blood," he said. "They said, 'Stand by for
torpedo run, starboard side.' And I said, 'Fred, get me a life jacket, get
one on me.' . . . Well we got hit by the torpedo and it's like a giant
grabbed the ship and threw it. ... And right afterwards they called
[prepare to] abandon ship."
Despite his injuries, Weaver tried to make it to one of the life rafts.
"And I was going as fast as I could and I remember my feet were going
through blood that was running down the deck like a small river, I will
never forget that." But by the time he reached his life raft, it had been
destroyed. "My life raft was all blown to smithereens, there just wasn't
anything left of it. ... And there was a guy beside me, a couple feet beside
me, and you could just hear the incoming shells. All of a sudden he was
there and the next thing I knew he wasn't and I was slipping, trying to
hold on to the rail, and there was a lot of blood and I looked down and I
was standing on what was left of his thigh. I remember the skin and the
hair from his legs underneath my foot. And I was sliding."
The firing continued, now from the torpedo boats. Weaver and a
number of other wounded were placed on gurneys between metal
barriers. "We were laying there," he recalled, "and if I was to summarize


183
what it sounded like, we were all praying. And it just almost sounded like
a guru type of chant, like a mum-mum-mum-mum, that's the way it
sounded because all these guys were wounded and we were all praying
and almost in the same tone. And I remember the sound of that. And we
could hear them [shells] hitting the bulkhead, just unbelievable. I was so
scared to close my eyes because I thought I would never open them
again."
Still down near the NSA spaces was Bryce Lockwood, who had been
knocked unconscious. When he awoke all he could feel was cold, frigid,
oily water. Around him were more than two dozen dead intercept
operators, analysts, and communications personnel. The water was
pouring in from the massive torpedo hole below the waterline, and
smoke, oil, and darkness filled the space. Lockwood heard a groan
behind him and found one sailor alive, Petty Officer Joseph C. Lentini.
The sailor's leg had been smashed by an armor-piercing bullet and then
crushed by a bulkhead when the torpedo struck. In spite of the
difficulties, Lock-wood managed to free the sailor's leg, put him over his
shoulder, and climb up the ladder to the next level, where he again
passed out.
Once again he awoke as the water, climbing still higher, washed over
him. Desperate to escape, he again put the sailor on his shoulder and
climbed a second ladder”but now the top hatch had been sealed shut to
help prevent the ship from sinking. Two, three, four times Lock-wood
dropped Lentini into the rising water as he pounded on the hatch with
one hand, held a flashlight with the other, and screamed at the top of his
lungs. Each time he would retrieve Lentini, reclimb the ladder, and
continue pounding. Finally, a sailor doing a damage control survey
opened the hatch and found Lockwood with the wounded Lentini, who,

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