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OBITUARIES / Ward Boston, 1923 - 2008

Lawyer probed Israeli attack on U.S. ship

June 21, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ward Boston, a former Navy attorney who helped investigate the 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S. intelligence ship Liberty that killed 34 crewmen and who years later said President Johnson ordered that the assault be ruled an accident, has died. He was 84.

Boston, a Navy captain who retired to Coronado, Calif., died June 12 of complications from pneumonia at a San Diego-area hospital, his wife, Emma, said.

Boston was assigned as a legal advisor to a military board of inquiry investigating the attack on the Liberty, an electronic-intelligence-gathering ship that was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast on June 8, 1967. Israeli planes and torpedo boats fired on the Liberty in the midst of the six-day Middle East War.

In addition to the 34 Americans killed, more than 170 were wounded.

Israel has long maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation that the Johnson administration did not formally challenge. Israel said its forces thought the ship was Egyptian and apologized to the United States.

A Navy court of inquiry concluded that there was insufficient information to make a judgment about why Israel attacked the ship, stopping short of assigning blame or determining that it was an accident.

In 2002, Boston said Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, told those heading the Navy's inquiry to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary," according to a signed affidavit.

Boston said he kept his silence because he was a military man, and "when orders come . . . I follow them." He said he felt compelled to go public after the publication of the book "The Liberty Incident," which concluded the attack was unintentional.

Boston said in a legal declaration that he was certain the Israeli pilots knew the Liberty, which clearly displayed American flags and had markings in English instead of Arabic, was a U.S. Navy ship.

Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who investigated the attack as part of an independent panel he formed with other former military officials, wrote in 1997 that he believed Israel intentionally attacked the Liberty to conceal that it was preparing to seize the Golan Heights from Syria.

Jay Cristol, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge who wrote "The Liberty Incident," said in the book that 10 U.S. and three Israeli investigations found no evidence of any Israeli intent to attack an American ship.

Ward Boston Jr. was born June 21, 1923, in Moberly, Mo. He planned to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia after receiving a scholarship to study the oboe, but World War II intervened. He became a fighter pilot with the Navy instead.

After the war he earned a bachelor's and a law degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and practiced law.

He attended the FBI academy and as a special agent was assigned to the bureau's San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.

During the Korean War he was called to active duty and served as a Navy lawyer. He retired in 1975.

In addition to his wife of 60 years, Boston is survived by a daughter, Anne Boston Parish of Alexandria, Va.; two sons, Ward III of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Geoffrey of Park City, Utah; and six grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Donations may be made to Disabled American Veterans.

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