On the evening of 17 May 1987, the U. S. Navy guided-missile frigate Stark (FFG-31) was attacked by an Iraqi aircraft while on a radar picket station in the Persian Gulf. The ship was struck by two Exocet missiles; 37 U. S. sailors were killed.
Unprovoked attacks on U. S. warships have occurred throughout our national experience. They are part of our shared mythology, and highlight our sense of passage as a people. In 1807, the U. S. frigate Chesapeake was cannonaded and boarded by His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Leopard, and four U. S. seamen were seized. In 1898, the battleship Maine exploded in the Havana, Cuba, harbor. Although the explosion was caused by a magazine detonation, the immediate U. S. reaction was to blame Spanish saboteurs. In 1937, the gunboat Panay was bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft while escorting U. S. tankers up China’s Yangtze River.