On that day in infamy-8 June 1967, Ron Kukal was a twenty-seven year old First Class Petty Officers and Communications Technician on board the USS LIBERTY AGTR-5 -technical research ship- meaning spy ship.
Ron was below the water line when the torpedoes attacked the unarmed ship while navigating in international waters on 8 June 1967, the third day of The Six Day War.
Ron became the man in charge of “the body recovery” of friends and shipmates and then suffered for years with undiagnosed PTSD which he self-medicated with alcohol.
Ron also became the first Chaplain for the USS LIBERTY Vets Association.
Ron and I have conversed via email and phone calls since 2007, and on the eve of The Fourth of July, Ron told me, “It was in 1991 that I came close to God and the Church simply to survive. I attended a Baptist Church in Sheridan, Wyoming and I was an absolute mess! I must have had quadrupled PTSD and a lot of it dribbled into that church. When I was being baptized I broke down and told the congregation, ‘I’m not suppose to be here, but God saved the LIBERTY and I witnessed many miracles during the two hours of attack.'”
In an email from 22 October 2007, Ron wrote:
“It may be possible that the only reason God saved the LIBERTY was so that we could tell our story.
“The ship was sailing 15 miles off the coast in international waters when the Israeli Defense Force attacked her. She was subjected to torpedoes, 50 caliber machine gun fire, napalm, and rocket fire. There was over 800 holes in the LIBERTY after the attack, she was listing about 10 degrees to the starboard, and was on fire in many places. Thirty-four men were killed and close to 70% of the crew were wounded, of which I was one.
“For what seemed like an eternity… many miracles occurred during, and after the attack. The only armament we had were 50 caliber machine guns, and they were like peashooters against the French built Mirage jets that attacked the LIBERTY…we were not ready for any kind of attack whatsoever. The element of surprise was theirs.
“I survived the attack by the planes, but the worst was yet to come, as five torpedo boats were bearing down on us, with one thing in mind, and that was to put us to the bottom! Only one found its mark. This was the second miracle that I was exposed to that day, the first being the surviving of the onslaught by the jet aircraft.
“The torpedo hit the Liberty almost amidships on the starboard side, and I was approximately thirty feet from the explosion. There were a couple of bulkheads between the explosion, and myself but they were like paper to the several tons of TNT that tore up the bowels of the Liberty. What had been several compartments were turned into one big room in a very short time. I was immediately immersed in sea water, and it was rising fast to the point where it would be above my head in a short time, and even though I could swim, the compartment would soon become completely full, and there would be no place to go.
“The hatch to the above deck was closed, and dogged down, and so my life again depended completely on what God would do.
“Just before the compartment became fully flooded the hatch above me was opened to let as many of us as possible out of there before we became a part of a watery grave. This was the third miracle that I saw that day, but there was even more to come.
“I ran to get to the main deck; I was slipping and sliding because of the water, and blood was awash within each passageway.
“The fourth miracle occurred when I was exposed to the machine gun fire on the main deck, and still remained alive, and still there was more to come. Every antenna we had was shot to pieces except one, and it had never worked very well. One of the radiomen told me that he tried several times to call for help, and finally when he realized that all the antenna were shot, he switched to the one that had always given him trouble, and when it was needed, it worked!
“We were able to call the Sixth Fleet, and notify them of our predicament through an antenna that had hardly ever worked. The fifth miracle had just occurred.
“The attack had gone on for two hours, or more, but it seemed like only a few minutes. The captain told us that we had lost our steering control, and that we would have to go aft, and steer the ship manually. We were able to make headway, and in time were headed for the island of Malta, and to dry dock. This was almost one thousand miles away, and here we were with a ship that had a forty by forty-foot hole in her side, on fire, and riddled with holes.
“The Liberty could go down at any minute, but we did sail the thousand miles without incident, and this had to be the sixth miracle of the day.
“I was one of the crew that went down below to identify the deceased and I know that God gave me the strength to go and do what was expected of me. Let it suffice to say that, under the conditions, only men that were strengthened, and held up by God himself would be able to enter the dark area down below.”
In his essay, NIGHTMARE ON THE MEDITERRANEAN, Kukal wrote:
“Yes I did see a ‘Flying Boxcar’ high above me at about 11:00 that morning when I walked out on the main deck. I had no idea who would be flying high above us, nor did I give it much more thought…
“My General Quarters station was topside on the main deck, and had I been there when the attack began the possibility of death was very real.
“The time was 1300 and the expected General Quarters Drill minutes away. Instead of going back down to my workstation in the Research Spaces, I decided to stay topside and close to where my assigned GQ station would be.
“Of course I knew I wouldn’t have that convenience during a real situation, but it was hot that day and I could see no reason for any extra effort on my part to accomplish my mission, and fulfill what the captain expected of us. The drill went quite well and took the better part of an hour. I was glad to be heading back to my workspace, which was two decks down below the main deck.
“I found my way to my desk and was just settling down for the long afternoon when a loud noise that I had never heard before came from the main deck above.
“I remember it well…I was not in fear of anything for a few moments because I was sure there was a good explanation for what sounded to me like the pounding of large balls of hail on a tin roof. Then the sound came again and reality struck me as the word came down that we were under attack. Thoughts of self-preservation went through my mind, and time seemed to stand still and yet go forward while I stood frozen for a few moments wondering what my next move would be. The sound from above came again and little did I know that my shipmates were dying just a few feet above my head. Men were being cut to shreds by rocket and machine gun fire from the jet planes.
“Several minutes into the attack we began to realize that the bullets where whizzing through our space, but it wasn’t from the planes, but from the strafing by the torpedo boats. They were evidently using armor piercing bullets…The torpedo boats had come on the scene shortly after the planes began to attack, and of course being down below it was hard to fathom what was going on above, and in the sea around us.
“I am absolutely dead certain that the Liberty was saved by God’s Hand, and by nothing else. There was just too much destruction, the odds were so against us since we had no way to defend ourselves, and the enemy was bent on sending us to the bottom. Of that I am sure. “As Saul of Taurus was blinded on the road to Damascus, so was I struck in a similar way which caused me to believe, to make a stand for what God had done here, no matter who would say differently.
“As I ducked for cover I found myself prostrate on the deck. Someone behind me ordered me to get flat down and that is exactly what I did. As I look back I often wonder who gave me the order?
“Who was there at the exact time to tell me what I needed to do?
“I probably was one of the more senior men in that compartment, and if anyone had ordered me flat to the deck it probably would have been someone senior to me, and yet I don’t think there was anyone. “We were now locked down with all hatches sealed, which is standard procedure during an attack such as this. I wondered if this steel vault that we were sealed up in would become the place of my death.
“I could not run from it, I could not hide from it, and I had only one way out..but I certainly knew that this was the time to pray. I didn’t pray the sinners prayer, no sir…I began to bargain with God.
“My prayer went something like this, ‘Lord if you will save me I will be in church every Sunday for the rest of my life.’
“God probably thought, ‘Yep this would be the type of prayer coming out of a man who was within inches of meeting his maker.’
“But God was looking at my heart as I prayed, he knew I was sincere, he knew I was scared to death also, but in his infinite wisdom he chose to let me live. I am here today because I believe it was the Lord who told me to get flat on the deck, it was God who directed my actions, and even though we lost twenty five men only twenty to thirty feet from where I lay, there were many who remained alive.
“I do not profess to know how our God thinks, I do not know why thirty four had to die that day, what I do know is that 260 remained alive. I prefer to look at it that way now, rather then the way I have looked at it for the past thirty some years.
“I was an absolute mess when I came back from the Six Day War.
“I drank profusely, even more then I did as a teenager. I never missed a chance to fill my body with alcohol, and little did I know that this time I was using alcohol as a painkiller, and a way to forget…I looked like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and that is exactly the way I felt.
“June 8, 1967 became a day of infamy for all of us that were aboard.
“Those of us that had escaped drowning down below were then meant with even more death as we found our way out of the bowels of the Liberty. As soon as we hit fresh air on the main deck we were ducking for even more cover as the torpedo boats were spraying the ship from fore to aft with machine guns.
“I was unaware of the machine gunning when I reached the top decks, and I think it was due to the release I felt being able to escape with my life from the decks down below. Somehow the stinging death from topside just didn’t seem to make any difference as I hugged and shook hands with some of the shipmates.
“Every table had an injured man on it, and with the wink of an eye our eating area had been transferred into a hospital. Our sick bay was small, and as I remember it was a shambles as it had been hit several times. I remember someone saying we needed Epinephrine and would someone make the trek back to sickbay to retrieve it.
“I remembered seeing that particular bottle in sick bay during my visits there and I volunteered to go, but someone was already out the door…no one knew if the IDF was coming back or not. “I wandered around the mess decks and someone walked up to me and said, ‘Ron thanks for bandaging my head.’
“I looked at him in wonder and thought to myself, ‘When did I bandage his head?’
“The job looked professional to me, and I asked him if he was mistaken, but he said, ‘No I am not mistaken, don’t you remember doing it?’
“I did not!
“How one can accomplish a task that he or she knows little about. What happens to a person when they are under the gun? It is amazing and could only be God inspired.
“Where was God on that ill fated day?
“He was everywhere.
“He accomplished so much in such a short time that it boggles the mind.
“Human beings are just not able to sustain themselves through horrible things like this without the help of God, of that I am absolutely sure.
“I offer my humble thanks to God for saving my life. I know I should not be here, but he saved me for a reason. Maybe to write this-maybe to just tell others-or some other purpose that I am not aware of yet.
“Going on from table to table on the mess decks, I found my buddies. Some unable to talk, and others just laying there hoping someone would talk to them and give them some kind of comfort. I wandered to the galley looking for something to eat, and wondering why I could possibly be hungry. When was the last time I ate? I couldn’t remember…I was not more then ten foot from the nearest man lying on a table, looking for a sandwich and drinking tomato juice. It is strange what one does under the circumstances, and even stranger the things that can be remembered after all these years. Yes I remember exactly what I drank and ate, but I cannot remember all I saw during the body recovery and identification phase of the attack.
“The time had arrived and the hatch was opened.
“I was in charge of the body recovery
“I told the officer who ordered it that I didn’t think I could do it.
“He said I should set my mind to it.
“I wondered what I would see, I thought about the method I would use to identify if I couldn’t recognize, and of course it came to me. Everyone had their names on their clothes. Surely there would be some recognizable article of clothing that one could use to confirm who this person might have been.
The remaining water had been drained out in the dry dock and we were ready to proceed. As I slowly descended the ladder I heard some of the others talking, and there were some who were down below ahead of me prying bodies from between the steam pipes, and picking up arms and legs or whatever pieces they could find and bringing them to the deck up above to identify.
“I decided I could do my job quite well where I was at, standing in a sea of body parts, and wondering where each part might fit.
“A shipmate walked by me and remarked, “How do you do it?’
“I don’t know, my mind was numb to what I was seeing. I floated away from the scene in my mind more then once, and tried to focus on something in my life that was more pleasing, but the reality of it all would come back in a flood. I found tears coming down, but no crying, or at least nothing audible.
“Someone passed out some sick bay alcohol, and I believe there was some other types of alcoholic beverages available. They combined them all and put them in little medication bottles. I must have drunk two or three, but it had no affect.
“I did my duty those two or three days down in Radio Research Room #2 and #1. I identified as best I could, and little did I know that it would affect me the rest of my life.
“Little did I know I would lose my family, go through two divorces, and lose most of what I owned. I had my job, so I could pay child support, but I was booted out of my home with a few clothes and furniture items, and pushed away from my children who loved me. To this day my former spouse has turned my daughter so much against me that I haven’t seen or talked to her for over twelve years now. I have an older son who was turned against me also.
“Does this pain ever go away? Not when it remains unresolved does it ever really go away, and of course the Liberty matter still remains unresolved.
“Many of the men’s families have said, ‘How could our own government do that to us?’
“I have no answer, but what I do know for sure is that I am glad I am not one of those who held the lid on this and has passed on with this on their heart.
“I would not want to go in front of the greatest and mightiest judge of all carrying this burden. Some may laugh, but it is not something I would want to do. Many a great man has spilled the beans before their death, because I would guess that they just don’t want to take what they have done to a higher court. Does that court exist? Oh yes I am sure of it!
“A nation cannot treat it’s own in this fashion, there will be repercussions that will be of great magnitude as God himself deals with a governing body that needs a good thrashing.
“I can sleep soundly at night now because I know a power much greater then I has taken over- and that my fellow Americans you can take to the bank–if you can find one you trust.”
On the day before America celebrated our Independence from a British Occupation with the promise that held “these truths to be self-evident: That all [people] are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among [people] deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the RIGHT of the people to ALTER or to ABOLISH it” Ron concluded our phone interview by stating, “It will take an Act of God” before The Churches Wake Up to Israel’s brutal attack on the USS LIBERTY.
Ernest A. Gallo, Chairman and Liberty Foundation President of the USS liberty Veterans Association had previously informed me that, “Some of the Liberty survivors think the Lord wants us to tell this story. My focus is on our government, who abandoned the crew when Israel targeted the USS Liberty and murdered 34 servicemen and injured 174 on June 8, 1967. Ever since, we have been chastised and dishonored by our government.”
My focus as a candidate of conscience for US HOUSE is to do all I can to support these troops by helping to establish every June 8th a National DAY Of REMEMBRANCE For The USS LIBERTY.
Hear Ron elaborate on his message to The Churches in his latest radio interview that ran at least 4 times on July 4th @
Please sign this Petition from JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE @
I am Eileen Fleming and I approve of ALL of my messages.