William Loren McGonagle was born November 19, 1925, in Wichita, Kansas. As the Dust Bowl swept through the Midwest, McGonagle and his family moved to California to find employment. In 1944 McGonagle attended military training at the University of Southern California, and after graduating he joined the navy in 1947. McGonagle fought in the Korean War and eventually took command of the USS Liberty in April 1966.
McGonagle and his men were stationed 12 miles off the coast of Gaza during the Israeli-Arab War. On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty was performing a patrol in the eastern Mediterranean when the vessel was attacked by Israeli forces. The attack lasted for more than two hours, and although McGonagle radioed for help, it was slow in coming. McGonagle was injured during the first air attack, but quickly returned to his station and began issuing commands to return the ship to safety. A torpedo hit the ship and it was 17 hours before a responding U.S. ship was able to help the USS Liberty.
Thirty-four men died in the attack and 171 were wounded, including Captain McGonagle. The Israelis later apologized to the U.S. government, claiming they believed the USS Liberty to be an Egyptian ship. McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts on the ship that day. McGonagle served in the navy for another 30 years before he retired. McGonagle died March 3, 1999, in Palm Springs, California, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Entry: McGonagle, William
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2012
Date Modified: April 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.