William Loren McGonagle, born on November 19, 1925, in Wichita, Kansas, was a distinguished United States Navy officer. His notable career reached its pinnacle when he received the Medal of Honor for his exceptional leadership during the infamous attack on the USS Liberty by Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War.
Early Life and Struggles: McGonagle's journey began when he enlisted in the United States Navy in 1944 after completing secondary school and college in California. His commitment and dedication led him through various assignments, including service in the Korean War on the minesweeper USS Kite, earning him a Presidential Unit Citation for extensive operations.
Military Enlistment and Heroics: In April 1966, McGonagle took command of the USS Liberty, a role that would soon test his mettle. On June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Liberty was attacked by Israeli forces while sailing in international waters. Despite sustaining severe injuries during the assault, McGonagle displayed unwavering leadership, maintaining control of the ship until help arrived. His actions during the 17-hour ordeal were nothing short of heroic.
Defining Moment: The attack on the USS Liberty left 34 crew members dead, 171 wounded, and the ship severely damaged. McGonagle's courage stood out as he directed the defense, controlled flooding and fire, and cared for the casualties. His steadfastness under relentless attack ultimately saved lives and the ship.
Post-War Life and Career: Promoted to captain in October 1967, McGonagle continued his naval career, taking command of the new ammunition ship USS Kilauea. He later served as the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit at the University of Oklahoma before retiring in 1974.
Military Awards and Decorations: Captain McGonagle's exemplary service earned him numerous military awards and honors, including the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, and the Presidential Unit Citation, among others. His Medal of Honor citation described his extraordinary valor and leadership during the USS Liberty attack.
Conclusion: Captain William McGonagle's legacy is deeply woven into the fabric of American military history. His courage in the face of adversity, selfless dedication to his crew, and outstanding leadership aboard the USS Liberty are a testament to the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service. Despite facing controversy and challenges in the aftermath of the attack, McGonagle's unwavering commitment to truth and justice continued until his passing on March 3, 1999. Today, his memory lives on, honored with a dedicated Golden Palm Star and the Captain William L. McGonagle Branch Medical/Dental Clinic, a testament to the indelible mark he left on the U.S. Navy.