June 13, 2010
Ceremony honors USS Liberty and local crew member
Sean Dobbin, Democrat and Chronicle.com Staff writer
John Hrankowski has fought his share of battles.
The first was a fight for survival on board the USS Liberty, which was on a surveillance mission in international waters north of Sinai Peninsula when it was attacked by Israeli forces during that country’s Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967.
The next was a battle to share his views about the assault, in which 34 U.S. crewmen were killed.
Officially, the U.S. and Israeli governments call the incident a case of mistaken identity, and Israel has apologized and paid a cash settlement to those affected.
But many survivors like Hrankowski maintain that the attack was deliberate.
“I went through this for a long time and got nowhere with it, but 34 of my shipmates were killed for no reason, and I thought for sure that they covered it up from day one,” said Hrankowski.
But Saturday was a day of peace for the 62-year-old Greece resident. With local politicians and military veterans looking on, the crew of the USS Liberty was honored at a ceremony at Ontario Beach Park.
The event drew attendees from all over the country, including crewmate Dennis Eikelberry of Amherst, Ohio, and Jim Grant, a Navy veteran who helped secure funding for the USS Liberty Memorial Library (see USS Liberty Wisconsin Library Wars) in his hometown of Grafton, Wis.
Grant, who was stationed on a submarine and listened to the assault as it happened, remembers when he was rounding up donations for the then-unnamed library, and a donor called with a large offering, asking that the building be named after the USS Liberty.
When he got off the phone with the donor, he turned to his wife with tears in his eyes.
“I’ve got to tell you a story I never told you about,” he said.
Hrankowski struggled to keep his emotions in check as he was greeted by friends and members of the military before Saturday’s ceremony.
While the events of 43 years ago will be with him forever, Hrankowski said that he’s come to peace with what he knows.
“I know what happened was wrong,” said Hrankowski. “It’ll probably never be righted in my lifetime. But there are other people who are going to carry this on.”