June 8, 1967. Johnson receives the news that an American ship, the USS Liberty, has been torpedoed in the Middle East during the ongoing Six-Day War. LBJ later described the incident and the fallout:
“Thursday, June 8, began on a note of tragedy. A morning news bulletin reported that a U.S. Navy communications ship, the Liberty, had been torpedoed in international waters off the Sinai coast. For seventy tense minutes we had no idea who was responsible, but at eleven o’clock we learned that the ship had been attacked in error by Israeli gunboats and planes. Ten men of the Liberty crew were killed and a hundred were wounded.* This heartbreaking episode grieved the Israelis deeply, as it did us. There was a possibility that the incident might lead to even greater misfortune, and it was precisely to avoid further confusion and tragedy that I sent a message to Chairman Kosygin on the hot line. I told him exactly what had happened and advised him that carrier aircraft were on their way to the scene to investigate. I wanted him to know, I said, that investigation was the sole purpose of these flights, and I hoped he would inform the proper parties. Kosygin replied that our message had been received and the information had been relayed immediately to the Egyptians.
Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson reported, after his return to Moscow, that this particular exchange had made a deep impression on the Russians. Use of the hot line for this purpose, to prevent misunderstanding, was exactly what both parties had envisioned.”
—Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pg 300-301.
Memo, Rostow to LBJ, 6/8/67, #232a, “Middle East Crisis, Volume 4,” Country File, NSF, box 107, LBJ Presidential Library. Photo of USS Liberty from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.