THERE IS NO documentary record of the time that, on the USS America, Sixth Fleet Commander Adm. William Inman Martin, having conducted briefing sessions for pilots on the topography and landmarks of Cairo, dispatched three "air ready" jets with nuclear capability to bomb the city of Cairo in the middle of the 1967 Six Days War. We do know that briefing sessions exploring the topography of Cairo had been held aboard the USS America. Given that Adm. Martin had foreknowledge of the attack, it should come as no surprise that the antiseptic deck logs of the USS America make no mention of planes having been launched with the target destination of Cairo.
Years later, Navy aviator Brad Knickerbocker recounted that he had been about to take off from the USS Saratoga and had been briefed by officers using large maps of Egypt. They highlighted surface-to-air missile sites, anti-aircraft emplacements, port facilities, and other military targets. Knickerbocker's account is garbled: the planes bound for Cairo were launched not from Saratoga, as he wrote in his Christian Science Monitor article, but from the USS America. Knickerbocker's plane, according to his account, did not launch at all: "The first flight of aircraft from the Saratoga was recalled without engaging in combat, and my flight did not launch."
What is significant about Knickerbocker's account is not the cancellation of his flight, but the preparation that he underwent, the study of the topography of Cairo--evidence that the U.S. indeed had prepared to bomb Cairo and had been thwarted only at the last minute when the USS Liberty miraculously (and successfully) sent an SOS to the Sixth Fleet despite its antennae having been pulverized in the attack.
"My combat initiation would have to wait for Vietnam," Knickerbocker wrote.
In the Sixth Fleet, there were two carriers with fighter planes onboard. The planes, equipped with nuclear warheads and bound for Cairo--as yet unaddressed by the history of the Six Days War--were launched from the USS America, the only ship in the Sixth Fleet with nuclear capabilities.
The officer who received the SOS from the USS Liberty, and responded immediately to its call for help, was Capt. Joseph Tully of the USS Saratoga. There was a covey of embedded journalists on America. Among them was Harry Stathos, who later said he personally saw nuclear-armed aircraft launched from America. Then, Jim Ennes later said that a chief performance officer with the Naval Security Group unit told him that same story, as did a catapult operator who recorded nuclear weapons launched.
Capt. Donald D. Engen of the USS America chased Stathos, who had come upon the launch to Cairo, from the scene. Engen covered up with the pretext that he was conducting a nuclear drill, accounting for the nuclear-armed planes being brought up from their subterranean resting place, but it had been a close call.
In fact, Stathos and the other...