June 8, 1967: July 4th in Hell without the Ice Cream

On another day in infamy, June 8, 1967, Lieutenant Richard Kiepfer was the lone medical doctor on board the spy ship, the USS Liberty, who “with complete disregard for his own personal safety, exposed himself to overwhelmingly accurate rocket and machine gun fire… administered first aid… treated [171 wounded] men for pain, shock… [and] conducted a major surgical operation.”1

Six weeks after boarding the USS Liberty and fifteen minutes into the attack, while operating on a sailor to control his bleeding, Dr. Kiepfer received eleven shrapnel wounds into his abdomen, and shortly thereafter, a gun shot to his leg, burns, and a broken knee cap. He remained on his feet, caring for the crew for the next twenty-eight hours and their spirits ever since.

This reporter visited with 70-year-old Dr. Richard F. Kiepfer, a Catholic born and bred in Brooklyn, at his Texas home where the deer ignore the corn put out by his neighbors, for Dr. Kiepfer provides prime feed in his front yard. Obese raccoons dine on a daily feast of dog food and multiple cats eat better than mine, in his back yard. Friends, who check on the doctor daily, set the food out since Dr. Kiepfer can no longer do what he once did.

A Master Bridge player while still in his teens, Dr. Kiepfer today continues to play the cards he has been dealt in life with aplomb and grace. In 1973, he nearly died in a plane crash. Instead he parachuted atop some Georgia pecan trees, ending his surgical career and the use of his right hand and arm.

“As I laid there and looked at my arm and failed every test to move it, I knew then I would never operate again and began to think about what I could do in life to continue to be useful, and decided on nuclear medicine. The pilot landed a mile away from me, and was impaled on a forest of pine trees,” said Dr. Kiefer

After twenty years in nuclear medicine he retired after suffering a heart attack and since then has suffered the loss of two wives, but not his sense of humor, which borders on the ribald. My weekend visit with Dr. Kiepfer, in his home adorned with icons of St. Francis, occurred only a week after his discharge from a rehabilitation center. He had spent the last six months recuperating from a below-the-knee amputation.

In an email from retired Commander David Ed Lewis2 who had been the officer in charge of 195 men out of the total crew of 294 on the USS Liberty he wrote, “I know Doc has suffered more and complained less than anyone I know. Job didn’t have much on Doc… He has always dedicated his life to others and has never asked anything in return from them.”

The book of Job is a critique about the justice of God in light of the suffering of innocent people and finding meaning and value in that pain and playing the cards one has been dealt with in life without blaming God.

Being a retired nurse, I had many questions for Dr. Kiepfer, utmost was what was left out of the Court of Inquiry: such as how could the deck log which documents the hours during the attack be so neatly written and list all the dead and wounded in alphabetical order within the hours of noon to four PM but make no mention of the many Israeli over flights that occurred during that morning before the attack.

Dr. Kiepfer explained, “The deck log was not written during the attack. Captain McGonagle signed off on the Log and that makes it legal, but not authentic. McGonagle was concerned that he would be blamed for the USS Liberty being in troubled waters. I told him, ‘Over my dead fucking body!'”

After the hellacious and unprovoked attack by Israel, they did indeed blame the victims. “Israel did identify the ship six hours before the attack… Israel did know that the ship was American and admitted to our government that they knew the ship was American; Israel claims only that the attacking forces failed to get the word… Modern diplomacy simply does not permit one to embarrass a ‘friendly’ nation, even when that nation is caught red-handed with its torpedo in one’s ship… McGonagle [was] tormented by the idea that he was somehow responsible for the agony his ship and crew suffered… One top level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the Liberty sunk because he suspected that it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting [during the Six Day War]… typical of Israel’s casual attitude toward the episode, an attitude which suggested from the beginning that it was really our fault for being there [in international waters] in the first place…messages from Israel directly charged that a share of the blame was McGonagle’s… the Shreveport Times suggested… that our government was involved in a cover-up… and that the attack itself may have been conducted to prevent the ship [and the United States] from detecting the pending invasion of Syria,”3 which was scheduled for June 8th but implemented on June 9, 1967.

Dr. Kiepfer continued to relay the events of that day:

“McGonagle may have misremembered or may have not reported the over a dozen Israeli over flights that morning because he may have thought he should have abandoned our mission-which was to listen in on all communications. My opinion as a civilian is that the Court of Inquiry — which was to determine if the Navy was at fault — would have inquired why he didn’t get the Liberty out of the area since we could see the smoke from Al Arish, in Gaza.

“I was the only Medical Corp officer to be appointed Officer of the Deck; that means I was in charge of everything on the ship when the Captain was off duty. I stood mid watch from midnight to 4 AM the night before the attack of June 8, 1967 and all was quiet. I always slept until 7:29 because breakfast ended at 7:30. Beginning at sunrise to 8 AM, the bridge reported a couple of propeller driven aircraft overhead and by noon several more. At lunch people were talking about all the Israeli over flights, but nobody was worried; they were our friends. Afterwards, as usual I went to the ward room for coffee while the Corpsmen began the start of sick call and off duty officers pursued the national sport of sunbathing on the quarter deck.

“Lieutenant George Golden and I were together when the attack began and we thought a steam line had ruptured when we heard the first explosion. We both headed off to our general quarters stations as the announcement sounded that we were under attack. I assumed it was perpetrated by the Arabs or Russians. Understand that nobody could identify Mirage fighter bombers that travel at MACH One. Imagine as I say these words to you that the jets are a mile away, now they are overhead and now they are a mile away from us. That is how fast they travel.

“Fifteen minutes into the attack, while I was operating on a sailor and trying to control his bleeding, I was hit with eleven pieces of shrapnel into my abdomen. A rocket struck above the ceiling of sick bay and the light over my head and the operating table protected me; both acted as a life saver for me, otherwise I would have gotten hit in my shoulders, side and back. I was knocked against a wall and waves of red and white pain throbbed through me.

“I knew I had to finish with the guy on the table; if I walked away, I wouldn’t have returned. All I could think about was keeping limbs attached to sailors. From the moment the attack began, I felt a greater presence within me that was physically holding me up. I thought it was the spirit of all the navy docs who had gone before me. I felt physically held up by my invisible assistants and with all that adrenalin coursing through me and some carefully titrated morphine that I self injected, I was able to do what I did.

“It was not until I finished that operation did I even examine myself. The fragments that penetrated me were so hot they cauterized my wounds. The pain was intense, but after applying surgical dressings to my wounds and putting on a life vest to control the bleeding I gave myself a shot of morphine and remained on my feet and working for the next twenty-eight hours.

“Just before the torpedo struck, I was summoned to the bridge and went through the mess decks from sick bay, where a number of wounded sailors were. Captain McGonagle was the only man still functioning there, the lookouts were dead, the helmsman — the guy at the steering wheel was dead and I saw the blown apart remains of our Navigator, Mr. Toth, two decks below me. All I could do was administer morphine to the still living and get them onto stretchers to evacuate them. I had two Corpsmen working with me and knew I needed more surrogates, for the wounded were shoulder to shoulder the full circumference of the passageway.

“While I was on the deck, I got hit by a fifty-caliber machine-gun bullet to my leg that came from the torpedo boats. I was bleeding into my shoes and not until the next day when I was able to lie down did the bleeding slow down. You know the story of the Incredible Hulk and mother’s who lift cars off of their kids? When you are angry and hurt you can do amazing things.

“If you got one hundred people into my skin that day, probably all of them would have thrown up from the hell that erupted on the Liberty. Men were groaning and crying for their mothers, but it was just background noise for me. I was slip sliding as I crossed the bloody deck to get to the Captain who had been hit. McGonagle was leaning back in the Captain’s chair, bleeding from many orifices, some natural and some new ones. I applied battle dressings, started an IV, gave him some morphine and sent an enlisted man to find as many officers as possible to come up to the Bridge and assist him and to watch him for shock. The Captain said, ‘If I sit up, I pass out, but as long as I stay in this position, I am OK.’

“People I had eaten lunch with were dismembered all around me, burned, dead. To this day, every time I have a phone conversation with Phil Tourney, who held the light while I was operating on Blanchard;4 he tells me he can still see the look in my eyes.

“Everyone in the Navy hierarchy knew we were scapegoats and the Navy would have done anything to exact retribution, but the Navy never got the chance.

“In LBJ’s mind we were just an average day’s losses in Vietnam. I doubt Israel would have attacked without the knowledge or complicity of our State Departments willingness to sacrifice a few hundred sailors to have a ‘stabilized’ Middle East and all that oil. Our State Department’s morality and ethics are just slightly below those of a Madame in a house of ill repute or a large scale drug dealer.

“June 8, 1967 on the Liberty, was like July 4th in hell without the ice cream… and yes, I agree that it was God that kept us afloat.

See previous parts: Remembering the USS Liberty, The Torpedo that Hit the USS Liberty: Made in the USA?, and Seconding Captain McGonagle’s Two Word Epithet.

  1. Admiral John S. McCain, Silver Star Medal Commendation. []
  2. Read more about Lt. Commander Dave Ed Lewis. []
  3. Assault on the Liberty, James M. Ennis, Jr. pages 213, 214, 131, 136, 141, and 142. Reintree Press, 1979. []
  4. Read more about Blanchard. []

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at ecumei@gmail.com. Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on December 24th, 2007 at 6:37am #

    god my ass, it was satan what kept ya’ afloat. what is with this liberty boat bull shit.
    the u s military has done this a million time. but the us does it to people that cant defend themselves. so if you are in the military you gotta expect this kind of “friendly fire” just ask pat tillman’s family.
    is the author of this article a evengelical xtian trying to promote guilt, fear and hatred? Screw the israeli government screw the us military and the liberty.

  2. Eileen Fleming said on December 24th, 2007 at 8:21am #

    The author of this article is on a mission to embarrass USA Govt. for being NO ALLY to the Vets of the LIBERTY and WAKE UP we the people that the time is NOW to take back the USA, for as Pres. Washington warned :

    “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all…and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils.”-George Washington’s Farewell Address – 1796.

    I am NOT an evangelical, I am a Christian of THE BEATITUDES and this being CHRISTmas Eve i offer you this gift/my spin on the Sermon on The Mount:

    About 2,000 years ago, when Christ was about 33, he hiked up a hill and sat down under an olive tree and began to teach the people;

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

    In other words: it is those who know their own spiritual poverty, their own limitations and sins honestly and trust God loves them in spite of themselves who already live in the Kingdom of God.

    How comforted we will all be, when we see, we haven’t got a clue, as to the depth and breadth of pure love and mercy of The Divine Mystery of The Universe. God’s name in ancient Aramaic is Abba which means Daddy as much as Mommy and He/She: The Lord has said, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not yours.” -Isaiah 55:8

    Christ proclaimed more: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

    The essence of meek is to be patient with ignorance, slow to anger and never hold a grudge. In other words: how happy you will be when you also know humility; when you know yourself, the good and the bad, for both cut through every human heart.

    “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled.”

    In other words: how happy you will be when your greatest desire is to do what “God requires, and he has already told you what that is; BE JUST, BE MERCIFUL and walk humbly with your Lord.”-Micah 6:8

    “Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy.” In other words: how happy you will all be when you choose to return only kindness to your ‘enemy.’

    “For with the measure you measure against another, it will be measured back to you.” Christ warns his disciples as he explains the law of karma in Luke 6:27-38.

    “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they see God.”

    In other words: how happy you will be when you WAKE UP and see God is already within you, within every man, every woman and every child. The Supreme Being is everywhere, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Beyond The Universe -and yet so small; within the heart of every atom.

    “Blessed are The Peacemakers: THEY shall be called the children of God.”

    Oh how happy the WORLD will be when we all seek justice and pursue it, for there can be none without the other.

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires, theirs is The Kingdom of Heaven.”

    And one fine day the lion will lie down with The Lamb and man will make war no more and that is the Kingdom of God.

  3. Survivor 67 said on December 24th, 2007 at 8:27am #

    Dr. Keipfer performed in a manner that only real heros are made of,
    but it didn’t stop there. When the ships crew needed his help later on
    in life, he was there. I should know because without the help and
    statements made by Dr. Keipfer I would never had gotten the V.A.
    to listen to my complaints. As a matter of fact when I checked into
    the VA in 1968 they had not heard of the Liberty attack. I believe they
    actually had to call Washington D.C. to find out if I was having a
    pipe dream. I find myself deaf to comments like the very first one
    made here, and actually feel quite badly for this individual. This must
    be a terrible Christmas for him.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 25th, 2007 at 7:43pm #

    The fact that the attack on The Liberty is virtually unknown tells you an old tale of media control and censorship in the capitalist ‘Free Press’. The story has gone down Orwell’s ‘memory-hole’. It also tends to vindicate the Egyptian and Syrian reports of massacres of prisoners by the Israelis during both the 1956 and 1967 aggressions by Israel. Naturally the fact that Israel is an aggressive, racist theocracy ruled by what can only be described as Judeofascists does not amount to a condemnation of all Israelis or all Jews. Many Jews are fully cognisant of Israel’s many crimes and its basically racist character, where full citizenship is open only to Jews, and oppose them on moral and ethical grounds. This does not stop the Judeofascists from labeling every criticism of Israel’s multifarous crimes as ‘anti-Semitism’. Its an old canard that has the convenient side-effect of basically asserting that Israel is a state apart, sitting outside all human judgment and condemnation, no matter how ghastly its record of cruelty. This rank declaration of exceptionalism explains, I believe, the votes of the UN General Assembly where, usually by votes of over 150 to three or four, Israel is condemned year after year for its crimes. Surely even the most die-hard Judeofascist can see that eternal rejection of compromise, endless cruelty to an imprisoned people and unending abuse of all but the most grovelling sycophants, can only weaken Israel in the long run. Bullies always fall in the end, either by provoking resistance, or by a process of internal decay, where they come to stand for nothing but cruelty and increasingly farcical assertion of their mental and moral toughness. Israel can only survive if it abjures violence and cruelty, and lives at peace with its neighbours. As it has never tried such an approach, at least it will have novelty value.

  5. Paul Barbara said on December 27th, 2007 at 1:43pm #

    Whilst this is a very good article, it does not disclose that Egypt was going to be nuked, and the nuclear-armed A4’s were recalled when just three minutes to target, in ‘retaliation’ for the attack on the ‘Liberty’, which was to be blamed on Egypt. Israel’s task was to sink the ‘Liberty’ and leave no survivors.
    Read Peter Hounam’s ‘Operation Cyanide’, and/or watch’Loss of Liberty’
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7267134620652018859
    and ‘Dead in the Water’ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5073.htm
    ‘Dead in the Water’ is BBC programme commissioned from Peter Hounam (who broke Mordechai Vanunu’s story about Israel’s nuclear arsenal).
    Another damning indictment is given in ‘The Six-Day War: A Retrospective’, edited by Richard B. Parker (ex-Ambassador, and the political counselor at the US Embassy in Cairo in ’67). It is a record of a meeting held in the USA between June 3-5th 1992, with major players from the Soviet Union, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, the US and the UN involved in ’67 events). The Deputy Iraeli Ambassador in ’67, Ephraim ‘Eppy’ Evron, was one of the participants, and he volunteered the (most amazing !!) following: Evron said LBJ had asked to see him; when he arrived, Evron said LBJ said to him: ‘I, Lyndon Johnson, have to get congressional approval if I want to act as president of the United States. Otherwise I am just a six-foot-four Texan friend of Israel. But you and I, the two most powerful people in Washington, are going to get the Congress to pass another Tonkin resolution’. This was said by LBJ less than two weeks before Israel’s murderous assault on the ‘Liberty’!! (It is now accepted, through declassified documents and other sousces, that the ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ incident never occurred; even the US Navy says it ‘believed’ it was under attack at the time.)
    This would have been the ‘Mother of all False Flag Ops’ had the Liberty sunk, and Egypt nuked.
    I would very much welcome contact from survivors; they unfortunately don’t have all the background inf. that Peter Hounam has uncovered.
    An ‘Open Letter’ to Congress has just been sent from survivors of the ‘Liberty':
    http://ussliberty.wordpress.com/2007/12/26/open-letter-to-the-united-states-congress-by-the-survivors-of-the-uss-liberty/

    OPEN LETTER TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS BY THE SURVIVORS OF THE USS LIBERTY

    Check this stuff out, folks!!
    Paul Barbara, London UK

  6. June 8, 1967: July 4th in Hell without the Ice Cream | USS Liberty Cover Up said on November 29th, 2009 at 9:20pm #

    […] aid… treated [171 wounded] men for pain, shock… [and] conducted a major surgical operation.”1Six weeks after boarding the USS Liberty and fifteen minutes into the attack, while operating on a […]