Howell, a Marine Corps veteran, heads the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Two years ago, Palm Coast rejected a proposal to place a plaque recognizing veterans of the USS Liberty — the reconnaissance ship attacked by the Israeli military in 1967 — next to the city's Purple Heart memorial in Heroes Park. But at a City Council meeting Nov. 5, City Councilman Jack Howell pushed his colleagues to approve the plaque.
"I’m not interested in the politics: I see enough of this crap in D.C. when all of the sudden everybody’s doing this: ‘Not me, not them.' The bottom line is, 34 people on that ship were killed and 200-some were wounded."
— JACK HOWELL, Palm Coast city councilman and commander of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart
The unprovoked attack occurred during the Six-Day War between Israel and multiple Arab nations in 1967. It killed 34 U.S. service members and wounded more than 170, and has led to ongoing controversy about whether the Israeli government knew at the time that it was striking an American vessel, or, as it has stated, mistook the American ship for an Egyptian one. An official U.S. Navy inquiry in 1967 deemed it a mistake, but USS Liberty veterans have said they believe the Israeli military was aware of the ship's identity when the attack commenced.
Howell, a retired Marine Corps colonel and head of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, passed his Purple Heart medal to other City Council members before addressing them toward the end of the Nov. 5 council meeting.
"I want you to look at this," he said. "... Because this is Veterans Day, I want to bring up a subject that we've heard before, and that's about the USS Liberty. ... It was in the area of the Sinai Peninsula, up doing reconnaissance on what the Egyptians and the Israelis were doing back in 1967. Well, they were attacked by the Israeli Air Force and the Israeli Navy. Now, I’m not interested in the politics: I see enough of this crap in D.C. when all of the sudden everybody’s doing this: ‘Not me, not them,’" Howell said, crossing his arms and pointing to either side. "The bottom line is, 34 people on that ship were killed and 200-some were wounded and the Congress does not give this out" — he held up his Purple Heart medal — "unless you’ve been in a hostile zone."
The USS Liberty service members had been awarded Purple Heart medals.
"Because of the politics at the time, the Johnson administration didn’t want to upset the Israelis; there was a mistake," Howell said. "But I’ll tell you this: When you’re on the incoming end of a round of rockets or 20-mm cannon or whatever, it’s not an accident, it’s deliberate."
The city had considered having a plaque installed in the past after Palm Coast resident Ernest Gallo, a USS Liberty veteran and survivor of the attack, proposed the idea in 2017. The proposal was approved unanimously by the city's beautification committee, but was rejected by the City Council after then-City Manager Jim Landon cautioned that the plaque would be memorializing an event and could lead to requests for other such events to be memorialized as well.
Currently, memorials and plaques in the city include the Purple Heart memorial, the September 11 memorial, a plaque recognizing U.S. and Phillipine service members who fought as allies in World War II, a plaque recognizing prisoners of war and those missing in action, and a memorial dedicated to veterans with PTSD.
The text of the proposed USS Liberty plaque was as follows:
Dedicated to the brave men of the USS Liberty
US Navy and Marine Corps
34 killed 174 wounded
In an attack by the Israeli Navy and Air Force
June 8, 1967 in the Mediterranean Sea
"They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this nation."
— Henry Ward Beecher
"It was deliberate at the time it happened and I firmly believe that we as a City Council, because this is Veterans Day, owe it to my Purple Heart colleagues to have that plaque placed next to the Purple Heart memorial," Howell said. "And I say that not only as a wounded warrior but as the president, or the commander, of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. I want you to think about that. You’ve touched this [Purple Heart medal], but I want you to think about the lives. And God help anybody who tells me, ‘Well, it was an accident.’ Nonsense."
Mayor Milissa Holland thanked Howell for his comments and for his service. There was no further discussion of the USS Liberty plaque during the meeting.