Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Lockwood was the featured speaker at Sunday's "I Stand Up for the Flag" celebration, telling a crowd of more than 200 the story of how he survived the 1967 attack on the U.S.S. Liberty.
The event was held as a Super Bowl alternative in reaction to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. The event was held to show support for the nation and flag.
Lockwood was serving on the U.S.S. Liberty when the non-combatant ship was attacked by torpedoes and air strikes on June 8, 1967. The attack killed 34 and wounded 174 Americans.
The Israeli government claimed the attack, which occurred during the Six-Day War, was intended for an Egyptian vessel and its military mistakenly attacked the U.S. ship.
However, he said the ship was clearly marked and, before the attack, personnel on his ship were waving at Israeli pilots as they flew overhead, and the Israeli pilots waved back.
When the attack occurred, "all hell broke loose," Lockwood said, describing rocket and machine gun fire followed by a bright flash of fire and a deafening roar from a torpedo strike.
Dazed, he didn't think he would survive. He felt cold and saw it was sea water that was gushing into the starboard side of the ship from a 36x42-foot hole created by the torpedo.
He struggled to save a man near him who had a shattered femur and was choking on sea water, which was becoming mixed with fuel from a ruptured fuel tank. He briefly lost consciousness himself, but was able to get the man to safety.
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"It was a terrible, terrible day," he said.
He said he realized later that Israelis shot down the U.S. Flag, which was replaced and shot down again. Personnel on the ship replaced them with a holiday flag, which is far bigger. When he saw that flag flying the next morning, he said: "The only thing I could think of was the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
Lockwood was wounded during the attack and medically evacuated June 9 to the U.S.S. America. He was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions aboard the ship.
"The speech was just amazing, fantastic," Susan Horn, of Jefferson City, said. "It brought tears to your eyes, it was hard to keep them dry."
Post 5 Commander Vince Rost said the response was great for this first-ever event. If the NFL continues to not address the kneeling issue, other similar events could be held in the future, he said.
"We thought we might, instead of depending on the NFL to do things in a respectful manner, we thought we might be able to (host) the Army-Navy game," he said.
Ceremonial events included the singing of the National Anthem by Helene Neuenswander, a fourth-grader from Cedar Hill Elementary School, and an interactive presentation of the history of the U.S. Flag.
After the ceremony, participants enjoyed free sandwiches, chips, soda and ice cream, as well as a live band.