The USS Liberty
An open letter to Senator John Warner
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I am the wife of James Mahlon Lupton, CT1, who was killed aboard the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israel on June 8, 1967. He was right where the torpedo hit. I have wondered for 32 years what was on his 24-year-old mind as he worked, knowing that the ship was under attack, that she had no defense weapons, that basically she didn’t have a chance unless someone came to the rescue. He probably heard the torpedoes being launched and heard them zinging in the water. Coming toward him. Coming Fast! And perhaps knew, somehow, that this time, there was not going to be a rescue...there was not going to be any help from anybody...that Israel was going to sink this vessel and she didn’t have a chance. And maybe — his last thought was of me.
I was 24 years old. We had been married only two years. My husband was 6’2” tall, 220 pounds, very handsome, with a winning smile (I have pictures to prove it) and many friends. Everyone who knew him respected him because of his integrity. He had the highest sense of honor and “my word is my bond” that I have ever seen in a human being. He did not equivocate or tell lies.
I am telling you all this about him because right now he is an unknown person to you. But I assure you, he was a real person, who laughed, loved, had hobbies, enjoyed the company of friends and family, and was looked up to as a man to emulate. And certainly looked up to by me. I had tremendous respect for him. He was such a fine person — he was the only person who could make me laugh when I was angry. (Until I had my son — he had that same quality. Sadly, I also lost my son, 11 years ago, when he was 15.)
Senator Warner, he was a real person. And I am a real person, just as you are a real person. You have lived, loved, laughed, enjoyed the respect of your peers, and enjoyed considerable success in your field, because of your intelligence and your expertise. My husband did exactly the same thing. Not in your field, of course — he was a Russian linguist. What I am trying to accomplish here is to make you aware that he was a person, with the rights and privileges that all American citizens enjoy. Except for one thing...he died on the Liberty when it was torpedoed by Israel — our allies — I thought allies were supposed to work together and protect each other. Am I under an illusion here? Or am I just misunderstanding the meaning of the word “ally”?
I was in Turkey at the time. I woke up to a beautiful sunlit spring day, and got dressed to go to my job on the air base. I remember that I wore a sky-blue dress. When the officer came into my office to tell me that the ship had been attacked, I started shaking. The coffee I was drinking spilled over the edges of the cup and my knees turned to water. I couldn’t stand up.
I sat down and immediately lost focus. All I could do was react to what I had heard. The officer said what he had to say — he was very kind — and left. My boss said I could go home. (Home? What home? Didn’t I have a husband at home?) I could scarcely remember how to drive — but I did. I had some friends who wanted to take my mind off what was going on, so they took me to the movie that was showing on base. The movie was The Bedford Incident. Isn’t that ironic....
I’m giving you all this history because you need to know that I am not the only wife who felt that way. I am not the only woman who lost someone she loved on that vessel. And I am not the only person looking for honest answers to a nightmare that has been ongoing for 32 years. You know, the families and the survivors of the Liberty only want the truth. Nobody wants to “get even” or “start something” — we just want to put this at rest, and as long as the truth is hidden, not one of us can rest. And if this happened to us, who among our shipmates is safe? And why would anyone enlist to serve a country that apparently doesn’t even care enough about what happened to us to launch an investigation?
Having said all that, I have some questions to ask, and I would sincerely appreciate a response within 10 days. I have read almost everything on the USS Liberty web site — some of it is too painful still — and there are discrepancies and inadequacies which I am certainly not the first to note or point out. My questions are listed below.
I would sincerely appreciate any explanation that you can give that would ease the pain I bear. I have remarried and had children, been divorced, worked, and still work at my job, and I still don’t understand. I am trying very hard to get some peace and it just won’t come. I have not forgotten him, and I will never forget that awful day, because my life changed — when I lost a piece of my heart.
Can you help me?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Very truly yours,
Barbara Scott (Lupton) Neilson
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