William McGonagle was an officer in the United States Navy who is best known for being the captain of the USS Liberty. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during and after the 1967 attack on that ship.
William McGonagle, a native of Kansas, was born on November 19, 1925, and joined the Navy in World War II. He decided to make the Navy a career, and became an ensign in 1947, later serving in the Korean War.
After he had reached the rank of commander, he assumed command of the intelligence ship USS Liberty in April 1966. During the Six-Day War, the Liberty was on station in the eastern Mediterranean, off the Sinai peninsula in international waters. On June 8, 1967 (the fourth day of the war), the Liberty was attacked and badly damaged by Israeli air and naval forces in what the Israeli leadership claimed was a case of mistaken identity. Though severely wounded in the first air attack, Commander McGonagle stayed on the bridge, directing his ship’s defenses and damage control. Only 17 hours later, when the attack had ended and the Liberty had rendezvoused with a US destroyer, did the commander allow himself to be taken from the bridge for treatment. For his actions and heroism, which almost certainly saved the Liberty and many of her crew, William McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented in a 1968 ceremony by the Secretary of the Navy. In addition, the Liberty received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Promoted to Captain in October of that year, McGonagle stayed on active duty until 1974. He died in Palm Springs, California, in 1999, of lung cancer, and was survived by his two daughters. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.