June 19, 1999
I was a crewmember of the USS Davis (DD-937) from August 1966 to July 1967. My rate was RM3. My name is Gerald R. Surette. When the ship departed for a Med cruise, the crewmen of the Davis had no idea what was going to happen to one of our ships later on. This is how I remember what happened. We had entered the Med and enjoyed a liberty in Gibraltar after crossing the Atlantic with the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) and her group. We fully expected to hit all the liberty ports that the Med had to offer, but this was not to be. We were instead told to stay at sea and operate with the Sixth Fleet as the Middle East was heating up.
The USS Davis was operating off of Crete with the Sixth Fleet when the first call came in from ROCKSTAR that she was hit and needed assistance. The date was June 8, 1967. ROCKSTAR was the call sign for the USS Liberty (AGTR-5). At this time, we were the Flagship for COMDESRON 12. One of our Radarmen, John Williams heard the first call and alerted the Captain of the Davis and the Commodore of COMDESRON 12. According to John, the Commodore and Captain Leahy, in a smoking jacket, ran up to the radar room and alerted the rest of the ship. About this time, the Flash Emergency message came over the teletype from the Saratoga on the circuit for fleet communications. I received it; and then ran it up to the bridge. By this time, all hell was breaking loose with the Sixth Fleet. Planes were being launched from one of the carriers, and there were flashing lights everywhere.
The whole fleet was coming together in battle formation. We got called back to the center of the fleet with the USS Massey, and the Commodore was sent over to the USS America in a whaleboat. When he got back to the Davis, we got our orders. The Davis and the Massey were to proceed to the USS Liberty’s position and try to protect and help the ship. At that time, she was off the Sinai Peninsula. We were off Crete, about 300 hundred miles away. The Davis, with the Massey proceeded at top speed to the last reported position of the Liberty; from what we heard on the radio, we didn’t know if she was going to be afloat, when we got to her position.
The night was spent checking gear, and getting ready for whatever faced us. We all knew that we were going into a war zone, and we were going to help a ship that was attacked and torpedoed. We knew men had been killed, and the USS Davis was more than ready for anything that came her way. The Davis and the Massey were to go to General Quarters about 5 A.M. on the morning of June 9, 1967. Every one of the men on those ships was at his battle station well before that. My duty station that day was to be in the whaleboat with a PRC10 radio strapped to my back. The whole crew of that whaleboat was ready an hour before we were to go into the water, and the engines were warmed up already. When we got to the Liberty, we were trucking. Our listed speed was 36 knots or better. We were going a lot faster than that. All stops had been pulled out, and the battle nozzles were in the boilers. General Quarters had been called, and we had live rounds up to the guns.
We slowed and circled the Liberty, and most of us on deck saw some things we had never seen before. That was the most beat up ship I ever saw afloat. She was listing to starboard and down at the bow. She had a large hole from the torpedo about amidships or just forward on her starboard side, and there were holes everywhere in the skin of the ship. The bridge had been worked over and the gun tubs where filled with holes. There was nothing left of the lifeboats or the rafts; they were gone. We launched the whaleboat, and went over to the Liberty. They had set the rope ladder over the hole made by a torpedo, so it was scary to say the least. The XO went first; and I went second. I had never made a boarding before and didn’t know about the wave action that got you. I got on the ladder as the wave was almost at the bottom in a trough, and when I got on the ladder, a wave came along and lifted the boat up and smacked me in the butt, and dumped me into the bottom of the whale boat right on the radio. I was going to be damned if I couldn’t get on that ship, so when the lifeboat came up, I grabbed for a rung.
A Radioman from the Liberty met me on deck, and said he’d guide me to the bridge. The Executive Officer was nowhere in sight. The Radioman took me through the crew’s mess where all the wounded were, and then up some ladders to a radio shack that had more holes in it than you could imagine. He finally led me to the bridge of the ship. The Captain of the Liberty and my XO were talking and discussing what the Liberty needed. Shortly, I was called over and the XO wanted Stokes litters. At this time, the Davis came alongside and tied up to the Liberty. Many of the crew from the Davis went over that day. The Engineering crew went over and helped Mr. Golden and Chief Brooks repair the engine room, and a Damage Control party went over and assisted the Damage Control party of the Liberty to stabilize the ship. The Doctors and Corpsmen were in the crew’s mess, where the emergency first aid station had been set up, and were working on the men who were wounded. There were many Doctors and corpsmen from ships in the Sixth Fleet. We had several Doctors aboard that were attached to the USS America, who went over and helped the Liberty’s Doctor. To say the least, the corpsmen and the Liberty’s Doctor and the other Doctors from other ships did one hell of a job that day. The wounded were laid out all over the mess decks. They were on every table that was available, they were on the floor, and all over the ship; and the walking wounded were trying to get their ship to run.
I have never seen, before or since, such carnage as I saw that day. All because someone didn’t want the USS Liberty to be there, and because Johnson and MacNamara didn’t want to embarrass Israel. Planes where launched to cover the USS Liberty. Then, the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense recalled them. I WATCHED THEM GO AND COME BACK!
I heard the radio messages. The USS Davis and the tug, Papago escorted the Liberty from the attack site to Valleta, Malta, where she was put in dry dock and patched to sail home to Norfolk, Virginia. The trip from the attack site to Valetta took six days at 4 knots, which was as fast as the Liberty could go without sinking. During this time, the tug, Papago and the Destroyer, Davis trailed her to render assistance, if needed; and to recover anything that would come from the torpedo hole. The only thing that held her up was the repairs made by the Damage Control parties. During the journey, divers from the Papago tried to put a net over the opening that the torpedo had made, in the hopes that they could stop anything coming out of the torpedo hole. We stopped in mid ocean and the net was attached, but that exercise failed miserably as the net lasted about 10 seconds after the Liberty got moving again.
We escorted the Liberty to Valleta, and then had a few days liberty. We then left Valleta and started cruising around the Med. I got off in July and got discharged after sailing a ‘PEACETIME CRUISE’. The Davis went on to a distinguished career, and was decommissioned in 1982 and was sent to Quincy, Massachuetts for scrapping in the early 90′s.
Gerald R. Surette
USS Davis (DD-937)