After I resigned my military commission as a naval officer because I lost motivation from the Vietnam War, I wondered what I could do for my future to make my life worthwhile. My best high school friend was in town as a civil rights lawyer and asked if I wanted to watch him argue a case for Cesar Chavez’s fledgling union against wine growers’ attorneys.
(Civil rights lawyer Jerry Cohen addresses UFW crowd with an inspirational speech)
(Cesar Chavez and his two German Shepherds)
His arguments demolished the private property claims of the ten slick business attorneys for the wine industry who tried to paint the farm workers as law-breaking scum. I was convinced I could never do anything so challenging. He convinced me that with determination and a subject that inspired me, I could do anything I set my mind on. Since I was motivated by the concept of justice, watching him win against his formidable opponents provided the spark I needed. Before long I too was a civil rights lawyer pursuing justice for the powerless. My life had been transformed into meaningful work every day.
(Dan, Joan, and Aleksey at the Gallo March during the Boycott; photo from fellow Hastings College of Law friend and classmate, Howard Watkins of Fresno)
I had a similar challenge when beginning to write my memoir, which took great determination, study, and practice at word art from authors and professors of creative writing. It appeared such a daunting task with a life of so many unconnected lively experiences, how could I create a book that would accomplish my purpose of sharing my inspiration? With their encouragement I developed my craft and in six years a book.
How does what you do connect you to your greatness or your potential? Gaining confidence from a friend who knows your potential is a great asset. My father, on the other hand, discouraged me from the practice of law and said I could never pass the bar exam. Having had the opportunity to argue civil rights cases for the poor and powerless was an opportunity to achieve greatness for a righteous cause. Others said I did great work and had been transformed from the friend they knew before as an athlete, but not an advocate for the poor that made a difference in so many lives. That made me gain confidence as did my friend’s coaching and that of my professors and writing coaches when I retired and wrote my book.
(Dan reads from his memoir, All the Difference, at a book signing locally)
What wisdom or guidance can I share for others? Don’t always follow your father’s advice, or that of anyone else who does not know your motivation, passion, and determination. If you have a passion to do something some people don’t believe possible, you should not be discouraged. You can do anything you set your mind to accomplish with undying determination, a reasonable goal, and the necessary training. You can always improve yourself and your future with tenacity, resilience, and the right motivation. Seek out positive people if others discourage your dream. Even if no one sees you as you want to become, you should follow your heart, but don’t forget to carry your mind with you on your journey.
(Dan bottom left played second base for Coronado American Legion team at 13 with mostly 15 and16 year-olds)
How could I have made the impulsive decisions that rocked my turbulent youth? What made me change from a fad-loving teenager collecting popular songs, memorizing major league batting averages, and dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, into a solemn born-again fundamentalist? That deflected me from my own purpose. I almost claimed conscientious objector status, and then quit Duke N.R.O.T.C. to enter a pre-ministerial program, only to find the more I studied religion the less I wanted to preach it to others.
(Duke University Chapel and courtyard)
My father said he could not afford the steep tuition and said I should try for an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy despite my lack of interest in the military! Since he and my brother graduated Annapolis I did the craziest thing to afford college, and entered Columbia Prep School in Washington D.C.to study how to score high on entrance exams. After three months I took the exams and was only one of 75 people to receive a presidential appointment from Dwight Eisenhower in the United States! Dad took me to see a patriotic movie about the Battle of Midway that changed the outcome of WWII in the Pacific due to our naval power despite Pearl Harbor that did so much damage that brought determination to build a strong military to protect our freedom.
(Midshipmen at the U.S.Naval Academy march into Bancroft Hall)
After entering Annapolis much forced me to realize this journey into a naval career had many negatives from my perspective. During my plebe year an upperclassman in revenge for the way my brother treated him, ran me into the ground with harassment until I developed mononucleosis and was sent to the hospital for five weeks ending my chance to quarterback the plebe football team as my coach and I wanted. Later I had the worst varsity baseball coach ever, who wrongly believed my father "got me into Annapolis" so kept me on the bench after I had a great year leading the plebe team with a .516 batting average. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy I wanted to fly airplanes but my eyesight dipped slightly and I could only qualify as a navigator. My plane was called the "Flying Coffin" by aviators because more than 50% were lost in accidents, and mishaps and was an easy target in Vietnam. After three close calls in training both my pilot and I transferred into ships and I navigated 300 marines to Vietnam.
(Dan flew in the RA5C Vigilante and was Carrier Qualified)
Forced to scrutinize my journey, filled with mistakes, nearly killed by a train on a trestle at 10 hitting rocks with a bat; dodging two trains after leading high school football players into a narrow train tunnel in Japan: escaping from two thugs at a beach, having many confrontations with brutal and malicious bullies at Annapolis and one officer in the navy; surviving the “flying coffin” Mach 2 jet in Florida; I rebounded by earning a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship for two years as a community civil right lawyer after law school at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Selected as Director of the Farm Worker Project by the ACLU I won my first trial for six picketers accused of disturbing the peace; won many motions and appeals in 17 class actions and other police misconduct cases against growers, prosecutor, a sheriff and the Teamsters. I worked for one of the most effective civil rights organizations battling against some of the most powerful forces in America.
(Dan at his civil rights law office in Encino California)
From a Naval Aviator, to a Navigator of an Amphibious Ship to Vietnam with 300 marines, I eventually resigned, found my purpose and after law school when I went from a legal aid attorney to a staff attorney for the United Farm Workers and then director of the ACLU farm worker project. I had been propelled into a powerful movement that was an answer to a dream. I submerged myself into the cutting edge of civil rights and consumer litigation as a member of a team with all the energy I possessed. Meanwhile, Joan and I raised a family that fulfilled my vision coupled with my quickly learned advocacy skills that enabled me to continue a profession on a path others said would be impossible—it was one few traveled—but I met enough dedicated individuals whose life shined that I knew it was right for me. Recovering from each fiasco and having learned a lesson each time, I began to define a vision of what might occupy the rest of my life: a pursuit of social justice in whatever way I could find appropriate. The pieces fell together through hard work, determination, and a future with a woman who inspired me and calmed my wildness from swirling rapids to a deep river that refreshed and enabled me to continue against all odds. Once I found a path that consumed me with passion I aimed as high as I could. No matter what confronts the reader, my story demonstrates an ordinary person can survive major conflicts, disappointments, injuries, risk of death, and still flourish.
On June 8, 1967, an American naval vessel, the USS Liberty, was sailing in the Mediterranean, when Israel's military purposely attacked it.
The American flag aboard at the time was in plain sight when this dastardly attack by three unmarked Israeli planes occurred. Three torpedo boats joined the savagery starting with rockets and then napalmed our troops used in Vietnam that caused many to protest because of its effect on burning skin. As if this was not brutal enough, American soldiers aboard the Liberty were pelted with machine-guns while they attempted to put out the fires these attackers started and three torpedo attacks finished the assault for good measure! Moreover, the Israelis shot all of the life rafts on the American ship, which was a war crime for a ship in extreme distress.
President Lyndon Johnson thought these attacks must have come from Egyptians and prepared our forces nearby for retaliation, but called it off when informed our ally, Israel's forces, were the culprits. The American newscasters reported this deliberate attack as a mistake. An investigation under Admiral John S. McCain's direction stated it was a case of mistaken identity! McCain's shielding Israel's massacre of American sailors created a distinctive union with Israel and continued with his Arizona Senator son. All the sailors were sent to different locations and told to consider it an "accident." One must believe the Israelis would blame the Arabs for this deliberate attack on our troops.
Why would the Israelis want to destroy the Liberty? She was an intelligence gathering vessel, a spy ship, that knew Israel sought to accelerate the 1967 Six-Day War to increase territory by attacking Arab territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and possibly Syria as well. One report asserted a conspiracy existed between Israel and the CIA and theorized the attack on the Liberty would arouse suspicion against the Arabs and inflame a passion for revenge against them to Israel's delight.
In 1983 a high level report called the claim a lie that this was a mistaken identity attack by the Israeli's. Moreover, the Israelis had asserted falsely that the Liberty traveled at a high speed near thirty knots when the truth was more like five and refused to reveal itself despite its conspicuous flag! The truth is that twenty five sailors were dead when Israel's forces first signaled to US forces and lied that no flag was flying to identify the Liberty after they shot down the flag to hide their infamy our sailors asserted. No one could have mistaken the Liberty's identity also because the name "Liberty" and its identifying numbers clearly were displayed next to its name. Even more damning is the fact that Israeli planes circled the ship thirteen times while sailors waved to our "Ally" according to eye-witness accounts shortly before they were slaughtered. Most disturbing is that one of the Israeli torpedo boats used in the attack is now in an Israeli museum as a trophy!
For documentation of this disastrous attack a DVD Documents 'Best Ally's' Treachery in Deliberate Attack on USS Liberty along with a video documentary, 'Loss of Liberty: Attack on the USS Liberty." It was premiered in Washington, D.C. at the Third International Barnes Review Conference on Authentic History and the First Amendment during June 14-16 that showed Israels' forces attacked the Liberty on June 8, 1967, and killed 34 American sailors and wounded 171 more. Tito Howard, a documentary film-maker, produced the video, and was the guest on a May 26 broadcast of Radio Free America, the weekly call-in talk forum sponsored by American Free Press with host Tom Valentine.
The USS Liberty remains the most decorated ship in the history of the United States Navy. A medal of honor went to Captain McGonagle, and two Navy crosses, 11 silver stars, 23 bronze stars-most of them with a "V" for valor-and a presidential unit citation for the remainder handed out by President Johnson. The Israelis made a phony contention that Egyptian armor and infantry had crossed into the Negev, which is part of Israel and that they were responding to this assault when on June 5, 1967 they destroyed 80 percent of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. And the next day they claimed they destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan because they wanted the Golan Heights and control over the West Bank and the Sinai. The USS Liberty was in the way of this plan.
It is the great hope of the makers of the film that people who see it will urge others to see the film, particularly friends and family and neighbors who have been in the military. The military people are the ones who have the experience and understand it best and they are the people who want to do more about it to right this wrong. The survivors and their supporters want a complete investigation into the attack. Everyone concerned deserves to have a complete resolution of this tragedy even after all these years. Author of Body of Secrets, James Bamford, included in his book an extensive account in his chapter on the Liberty, and it is featured in this film. Additional articles on the tragedy of the Liberty may be found below: