Last Friday, Patricia Blue-Rousakis was at Arlington National Cemetery where she has spent many June 8ths for the past 15 years.
There, she joined with a handful of survivors of the 1967 attack on the surveillance ship USS Liberty, which was struck by Israeli air and naval forces.
The group heard a retired chaplain say a prayer, visited with those in attendance — some, like herself, who lost family members on the Liberty — and went to lunch in Alexandria, Va.
But even after so many years, and knowing full well that the topic of the Liberty is widely viewed as poisonous, the visitors still note the absence of political and military officials at the observance.
“We talk about it among ourselves,” said Blue-Rousakis, whose first husband, Alan Blue, was a National Security Agency linguist on the ship. He was among the 34 men killed and 174 wounded in the attack.
“Of the family members and the survivors, every single one of us at one time or another has invited our representative from [the House] and the Senate. And no one has ever shown up. No one. It’s a very sad little gathering.”
It’s just not the politicians, she said.
Forty-five years after the attack, no uniformed officers will attend the ceremony.
“They won’t do it. They absolutely will not do it,” she said.
The lightly armed American spy ship was strafed, napalmed and torpedoed by Israeli air and naval forces for more than an hour in broad daylight during the Six-Day War.
But for a crewman gerry-rigging a radio to get a message out to the fleet, many Liberty survivors believe they would have been sunk with all hands.
Journalist and author James Scott, whose father survived the attack, wrote in “Attack on the Liberty” that Johnson believed the attack was deliberate.
But he let Israel off the hook because he feared “alienating” American Jewish leaders, from whom he was getting “pressure” for escalating the war in Vietnam.
Joseph Meadors, a Liberty survivor and the current president of the Liberty Veterans Association, said he and his predecessors have been inviting members of Congress to Arlington since they began holding the observances in the 1980s, he said.
“This year I’ve invited every member of Congress who represents a congressional district where a USS Liberty KIA lived,” Meadors said.
This meant invitations to lawmakers from 21 states.
So far three lawmakers have said they would send staffers, but one bailed out, and Meadors said he’d be surprised if the other staffers showed.
One lawmaker, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, responded to the invitation with a brief note to be read at the ceremony. Cornyn offered his “deep sympathy to the friends and loved ones of the 34 brave Americans who were lost that day.