Obituary: Ward Boston Jr.; helped investigate '67 Liberty attack

Blanca Gonzalez
The San Diego Union-Tribune
June 19, 2008

Ward Boston Jr., a Navy fighter pilot during World War II who worked a stint as a special agent for the FBI, had his place in history set when he was a Navy attorney who helped investigate the 1967 Israeli attack on the Navy ship Liberty.

The attack on the U.S. intelligence ship, which killed 34 crewmen and wounded 172, was ruled an accident at the time. But several years ago, retired Capt. Boston declared that orders came from President Johnson to conclude it was a case of mistaken identity, despite evidence to the contrary.

The revelation rekindled a debate over whether the attack was deliberate, accidental or the result of negligence, and whether the United States and Israel covered up the truth.

Capt. Boston, a Coronado resident, died June 12 of complications from pneumonia at a San Diego hospital. He was 84.

According to reports, the Liberty was cruising off Egypt June 8, 1967, in the midst of the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War when it was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats.

Israel said the Liberty had been mistaken for an Egyptian vessel and apologized.

Capt. Boston, a legal officer for then-Rear Adm. Isaac Kidd Jr., was part of the hastily convened investigative team. Years later, Capt. Boston said they were given only one week to gather evidence for the Navy's official investigation, though both he and Kidd estimated that a proper court of inquiry would take at least six months. Capt. Boston said he was spurred to speak up after the 2002 publication of a book on the Liberty incident.

In a June 2007 opinion piece written for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Capt. Boston said Kidd told him that Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ordered Kidd to conclude that the attack was a case of mistaken identity.

“I am a military man, and when orders come from the secretary of defense and the president of the United States, I follow them. However, attempts to rewrite history and concern for my country compel me to share the truth,” he wrote.

Ward Boston Jr. was born June 21, 1923, in Moberly, Mo., son of Ward and Margaret Boston. His musical talent on the oboe earned him a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but when World War II started, he headed to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school instead.

He flew photo-reconnaissance missions over Tokyo and Iwo Jima in Navy Hellcat fighters and later joined other pilots in attacking targets.

After the war, he went to law school and received his law degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He entered private practice for a time, but continued to fly Navy fighters as a reservist.

He met and married the former Emma Penello in Norfolk, Va. In the late 1940s, he joined the FBI and worked in the San Francisco and Los Angeles field offices. During the Korean War, he rejoined the Navy as a judge advocate general officer.

The Bostons had lived off and on in Coronado since 1953 and retired to the community in 1975. Capt. Boston was active in several organizations, including the Coronado Optimist Club, the Coronado Roundtable and the Silver Strand Chapter of the Retired Officers Association. He served on the 1983-84 San Diego County grand jury and was a volunteer at the San Diego Aerospace Museum.

In addition to his wife, Capt. Boston is survived by his children, Anne Boston Parish of Alexandria, Va., Ward Boston III of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Geoffrey Daniel Boston of Park City, Utah; and six grandchildren.

Services, with full military honors, will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Disabled American Veterans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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