June 10, 1989


Grafton, Wisconsin

The story begins in October 1987, with a letter to Phil Tourney from Benjamin Grob, in which he announced that he and his brother Ted made a substantial contribution to build a new library in Grafton which entitled them to name the library. They wanted to call it the "USS LIBERTY MEMORIAL PUBLIC LIBRARY," and wanted the reaction of the families of the murdered as well as the survivors.

In March of 1988, the Liberty Vets announced in their newsletter that the city of Grafton, Wisconsin was planning a new public library that will be named the USS LIBERTY MEMORIAL PUBLIC LIBRARY in honor of the shipmates who died on June 8, 1967. The name was suggested by a local family who wished to remain anonymous, and who contributed $250,000 toward construction.

Grafton sources reported that a regional Anti-Defamation League official attempted to demean the issue as one that has "become a lightning rod to right-wing groups intent on defaming Israel"

Nevertheless, the city fathers fully supported the proposed name. A library committee member reported, "I think the true intention was to provide a memorial to the men who gave their lives on this ship."

In June of '88, the newsletter reported that the name of the anonymous donors were Benjamin and Theodore Grob, who owned a Grafton machine tool business. The Grobs suggested the name after reading a speech made by survivor Phil Tourney.

There was an immediate outcry from supporters of Israel who deemed the name was somehow an attack upon Israel and an anti-Semitic slur. Rabbi Gideon Goldenholz of a nearby synagogue was quoted as calling the project a "cynical" way to bring the Liberty attack to public attention, and is therefore "insulting to Jews." He said, "The U.S. acted in a way unbefitting an ally, the blame ought not to be on Israel."

James Fromstein of the Milwaukee Jewish Council appealed for reconsideration of the name. According to Fromstein, "The USS Liberty incident...is a sensitive subject considered offensive to...Jewish people everywhere."

Hostile press interest developed in Milwaukee, a federal commitment to contribute $83,000 to the library had been "delayed" for reasons unclear and at least one large donor had been asked to withdraw his donation.

Fromstein and an associate met with Grafton mayor Jim Grant at Grant's home on May 10 while three newspaper reporters and two TV cameramen waited outside. Fromstein threatened to force selection of another name and he said he would call a session of the Milwaukee Jewish Coucil to consider their next move. The situation got increased TV and press attention in Milwaukee.

John Hrankowski and Joe Meadors were invited by the Grafton Library committee to attend a forum at the American Legion Hall on June 8,'88. Pete McCloskey was also invited. There were some 400 in attendance and the audience roared in approval when John and Joe responded to questions denying the name was anti-Semetic in any way. The people of Grafton showed wonderful support and love for the Liberty guys.

The ground breaking ceremony for the library on July 26 was not without incident. There were pickets and animosity but there were many supporters who thought the choice of the name was an honorable one -- a fitting way to remember the ship and its crew.

Charges of anti-Semitism have been hurled without accuracy and people have echoed them without trying to find out what the real story is. The Milwaukee Journal appeared to agitate the Jewish community. "Where is the outrage in Grafton? Why is there no outcry?" it editorialized. The editors ignored letters from such notables as Admiral Moorer, choosing instead to keep the pot boiling by slanting its news stories. Schoolchildren were stirred to denounce the "nazis" who supported the naming of the library after the USS Liberty and Pete McCloskey was denounced on TV as "pro-Arab." Still, the ground had been broken, the citizens of Grafton are proud of the name and the survivors had won many defenders as this confusing drama unfolded.

Frank Trejo, reporting on the library dedication ceremony, said in The Dallas Morning News of June 11, '89, that emotions had not diminished in 22 years.

Chaplain Ron Kukal gave the benediction and remarked, "we are here to honor our dead, nothing more, nothing less. We will never, never forget these men, our brothers and our shipmates."

Stan White reported an invitation had been sent to the White House but got no reply.The article also indicated that several Milwaukee-area groups, including the Milwaukee Jewish Council had critized the village for the name of the library, noted the attack has been used to foster hatred toward Israel and the Jews.

The police escorted two buses carrying Liberty veterans and scattered other police officers throughout the area. Survivors of the Israeli attack reported that SWAT teams were dispersed on the roofs of the library and other buildings on the street. Procedures included a search of the library and nearby buildings with bomb-sniffing dogs. Despite fears of disruption, the 40-minute ceremony went off without a hitch.

Captain McGonagle proudly wore his Congressional Medal of Honor he received and lauded and paid tribute not only to those who died but to the survivors.

U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey urged the government to use the Grafton memorial as the beginning of official recognition for the men of the Liberty.

Wisconsin state Rep. Susan Vergeront of Grafton agreed with McCloskey, but also critized the "dastardly" efforts by anti-Semitic groups to exploit the situation and as "having stolen the good name of the USS Liberty."

Trejo also reported that the Grob brothers gave the library $400,000 as a donation. Village officials made each of the Liberty veterans an honorary citizen of Grafton.

LVA President Phil Tourney lauded Ben, Erica, Ted and Mavis Grob who named the library, and made it a reality with the help of Jim and Carol Grant, John and Mari Dickmann and many others. Stan White came in for some kudos as Phil said that we couldn't have achieved any of the good things that have occurred without Stan and Laura's unwavering dedication.

Janet Staszewski, staff writer for the Cedarburg News Graphic Pilot, wrote on June 15 '89, about the library memorial service: Ida Goss, whose son Gerry Goss was killed in the attack, praised the village for the service and for naming the library after the Liberty. She had traveled from Indiana to see her son's name on the stone.

Lorna Stopper, whose brother Duane Marggraf is memorialized on the stone marker, was overwhelmed by the love and generosity of the people of Grafton.

John Hrankowski, vice-president of the LVA, indicated the memorial service was very emotional. John said as the stone was unveiled, "the unveiling of this stone will mark a spot which preserves the memory of 34 brave men who died unnecessarily in the service of their country."

Joe Meadors, of Corpus Christi, Texas, said, "It's all kind of overwhelming after 22 years."

Jim Grant, village president said, "The agony of uncertainty that the survivors and family have experienced must be addressed." He further honored the survivors and those killed with this tribute to them.

And it was Steve LaTorre, who spoke for the survivors in displaying how they all felt, as he stood on the top step of the library, turned to the crowd and said... "THANK YOU, GRAFTON!"

The LVA newsletter reported that the Grafton American Legion post commander asked the local high school to provide the school band for opening ceremonies at the library. Incredibly, the request was "disallowed." Such recognition of the USS Liberty was deemed by a school official to be "too controversial" for the library, even though the request was supported by the town council, the local American Legion post, the library board and library fundraising committee, the local Chamber of Commerce, and a substantial majority of the citizenry.

Letters to the editor in Grafton area papers have chastised Grafton town council president Jim Grant for displaying on his new family van a license plate which reads, "USS LIB." The choice of license plate was labeled "very immature" by a citizen who complained to the local newspaper. Jim and Carol Grant, however, were undismayed, and Carol reported that the reaction to her license plate had been favorable.

The newsletter reported that the New York Times carried an important article by Dick Johnson, their Milwaukee correspondent. On January 6, he described the controversy over the USS Liberty Memorial Public Library in Grafton. The article focused sharply on interviews with opponents of the library name, and claimed that the name is "deeply offensive to many Jews" while the Milwaukee Jewish Council is quoted arguing that the USS Liberty has become "a symbol of anti-Semitism."

On Thursday, Sept. 7, 1989, Rep. Andy Jacobs (D-Ind) inserted an essay written by former Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-Calif) into the Congressional Record. The essay was entitled, "THE U.S.S. 'Liberty,' 1967-89" and was a report of the heartwarming memorial service that took place in Grafton. Among other things, the essay said that the dedication of the memorial with the names of the 34 dead was the first public recognition of their service in the 22 years since the attack. The essay paid tribute to Jim and Carol Grant, and John and Mari Dickmann, who together organized the memorial event against bitter editorial opposition from Wisconin's largest newspaper and from the Milwaukee Jewish community. It also reported that President Bush, a former Navy combat pilot, had been invited to attend. He didn't, nor did his office send a message. The Secretaries of Defense and of the Navy had been invited. Neither responded. The Commander of the nearby Great Lakes Naval Training Station had been invited, neither he nor the Navy band was allowed to attend. No Blue Angels flew overhead. One solitary Chief Petty Officer, a recruiting officer from a nearby town showed up. The Liberty's chaplain gave a moving invocation. Liberty crew jackets were awarded by two Liberty crew members to the Grob brothers who had donated $500,000 for the new library.

In a letter dated May 2, 1990, to Phil Tourney, Ted Grob expressed amazement at the publicity they received due to the new library. Even though the name of the library made some enemies, it made them many good friends. Ted said that without Phil's speech in the SPOTLIGHT, they would'nt have known there was a USS LIBERTY VETERANS ASSOCIATION. Ted remarked that the name would never have "stuck" if it were not for the Village President James Grant and others like John Dickmann.

Ted and Ben Grob had a very special place in their hearts for the Liberty survivors, families and friends. They were called anti-Semetic, Jew-haters and the like for their views, just as the survivors have been labeled for being aboard the Liberty. Ted passed away on July 4, 1996, and remarkably, Ben passed on July 4, 1998, exactly two years to the day from his brother's passing. God bless their souls, they are both deeply missed.

Interestingly enough, survivors report that the library sign bothered the Grob brothers. The letters "USS LIBERTY MEMORIAL" were smaller than the letters for "PUBLIC LIBRARY," so the brothers had to fork over another $50,000 to get the letters to be the same size.

The building to the north and attached to the library is Grafton's original high school. When the library was constructed, it was felt that the well-built building still had useful life. It is currently leased to the North Shore Academy of Arts (NSAA), a play group. If needed in the future, it would allow for library expansion. The parking lot to the right of the building is library parking.

(Color pix from Ron Kukal)
(B & W pictures from USS Liberty Veterans Association Newsletters).
(Information from survivors, Jim Grant and from USS Liberty Veterans Association Newsletters).
([email protected] -- February 1, 2009)

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