Sunday, May 31, 2009
A former Sailor whose quick action aboard the USS Liberty 42 years ago kept it from sinking was awarded a Silver Star in the Visilia, Calif., office of Rep. David Nunes. James "Terry" Halbardier repaired a damaged antenna while under fire by Israeli aircraft, which had already knocked out the ship's communications, according to James Ennes, an officer aboard the Liberty that day. Israel has long claimed the attack was a case of mistaken identity. The United States accepted Israel's apology and a Navy Court of Inquiry concluded the attack was an accident. Testimony by crew members pointed to a deliberate attack and the legal adviser to the court later said the court's conclusions were a sham. A new book, "The Attack on The Liberty," by James Scott, argues that President Lyndon Johnson’s administration allowed the accident story to stand in order to avoid a conflict with American Jewish leaders, many of whom already were opposed to his escalation of the Vietnam War. The Liberty is one of the most decorated ships in the Navy’s history as a result of the June 8, 1967, attack and the crew's successful fight to save it and each other. Its commander, Capt. William McGonagle, was presented the Medal of Honor, while executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Philip McCutcheon was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Other members of crew were awarded 11 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, a Presidential Unit Citation, and more than 200 Purple Hearts – and now, Halbardier’s Silver Star. In an interview, Halbardier told Military.com that he initially was interested only in getting the medals that he was certain he qualified for -- including the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Ribbon. These he collected about three or four years ago, he said, after Ennes and others who could testify to his actions and wounds filed the necessary paperwork. But then his shipmates realized that without Halbardier’s actions, they might all be dead. "They figured out that because we got that mayday out ... it saved the ship," he said.
Halbardier, 65, said he thought he might get a Bronze Star for his efforts and was totally surprised when he learned he was being awarded the Silver Star, the third highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. But it was not only the level of award that surprised him, but the fact the citation actually identified the attacking forces as Israeli. All other decoration citations presented to Liberty crew and officers, including the Medal of Honor awarded to McGonagle, never identified the attackers, he said. "Mine is the only one that ever mentions Israel," he said, and wonders if Navy officials erred and forgot to expunge the reference. Ennes, author of the 1979 book, "Assault on the Liberty," told Military.com in a May 26 email that Halbardier came up to him as he lay with a broken leg on a gurney. Ennes was the electronics material officer and Halbardier's supervisor. The 23-year-old electronics technician 3rd class told Ennes that all the antennas had been destroyed, but that he thought he could get one operating by running some cable from it to the main transmitter room. And that's just what he did. According to the Silver Star citation, Halbardier repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire and suffered wounds as he scrambled across the open deck to repair the antenna for a mayday message. "His courageous actions were critical in alerting distant Navy commanders to the ship's need for assistance and were instrumental in saving the ship and hundreds of lives," the citation reads, staving off further attacks. "I do believe that if Terry had not rigged the antenna, our help message would not have gotten out,” Ennes said. “Israel … would have continued the attack until we sank with all hands."