November 16, 2011




The Intrepid Project and the Somers and Wadsworth families have begged for the repatriation of their forbears for two centuries. They were unceremoniously rebuffed each time their entreaties reached high levels of government. This contemporary effort has met resistance from, of all places, the leadership offices of the United States Navy.

The Somers and Wadsworth families have not been informed of the most recent Navy claims; the Navy's opposition has been quiet and service-to-Senator. However, we have been informed of a few of their points, which we refute below.

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1. NAVY: The Intrepid crew was buried in the same place as hundreds of captive Neopolitan or other European non-Muslim slaves, making it impossible to find the graves of the Intrepid crew.
FACT: The Intrepid crew was buried in an identified area, not among slaves and others. They can be easily located and exhumed.

This Navy contention belies the stories of three eyewitnesses - Jonathan Cowdery, William Bainbridge and Nicholas Nissen, all of which are readily available. Bainbridge's account is paraphrased by James Fenimore Cooper in his "Lives of Naval Officers" (Vol. 1, p. 111) and remains one of the principal accounts of the whereabouts of the crew. Both Cowdery and Bainbridge make it clear The Intrepid crewmen were buried essentially where Arab troops found them, south and east of the castle, some two miles from the gates. Cowdery in particular was very clear in his description of The Intrepid officers' burial spot as being on a small escarpment abutting the shore while the enlisted men were buried on the beach. The slave cemetery - and the place where seven men from the Philadelphia who died in captivity were also buried - was Temablus, an area of Tripoli south of the castle but well away from the shoreline.

The Libyans also point to the shoreline burial spot as the location where Karamanli's troops buried The Intrepid crew. According to the Libyan book, "Secrets of the Old Protestants Cemetery" by Abdu Hakim Amer Al-Tawil, (Tripoli: Libya; Libyan Center for Historical Studies, 2008), the burial site of the three officers became the foundation of the Old Protestant Cemetery. As such, it is physically impossible for Master Commandant Richard Somers, Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth or Midshipman Henry Wadsworth to be buried any place else.

Finally, "Secrets" confirms the Italian records of highway engineers unearthing the bodies of the enlisted men and transferring these remains to the Old Protestant Cemetery (Al-Tawil, pp. 334-351).
2. NAVY: The repatriation of the remains of the crew of the Intrepid would create a domino effect of requests to find and return remains of sailors and Marines who died in various armed conflicts prior to World War I, including the Mexican War, Spanish American War, the Moro Uprising and interventions in Central America in the 1920s (the Banana Wars).
FACT: There are no pending family requests to repatriate these other historic combat veterans while the families of the Intrepid crewmen have never stopped asking for their return.

This Navy contention is disingenuous at best. To date, the Navy has no requests to recover remains from outside World War I, nor has it received requests to search for Marines who died in the Philippines in 1899-1901 or in 1920 in Nicaragua. The Navy has made public no requests from family to recover properly buried family members nor is it likely to receive such as families of deceased naval personnel from the 19th to early 20th centuries know those loved ones are buried properly and honorably.

According to Chris Dickon, Emmy Award-winning author of "The Foreign Burial of American War Dead" (McFarland Publishing, 2011), other than Somers and Wadsworth, no other families have requested the remains of Americans buried overseas who the DOD is actively obstructing their return. In fact, when researching his book Dickon was unable to identify contemporary descendants of the American seamen buried in Spain and Nicaragua.

According to Dickon, "there might be some concern that your efforts, if successful, would open the floodgates of requests for returns and set a difficult precedent. But when we look at what we know, that doesn't seem like a probable scenario." (Letter attached.)

The case of The Intrepid crew is unique. The Somers family began in the 1830s to seek the return of the remains of Master Commandant Richard Somers. They have continued to seek the return of his remains since that time. Relatives of Lt. Henry Wadsworth immediately implored Washington to return his remains, too, beginning with his sister who nearly died of heartbreak and later named her son after her brother: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the great American poet.

Both of these heroic sailors have grave markers honoring them in hometown cemeteries. Both graves are empty.
3. NAVY: The service does not, by tradition, move, recover or repatriate remains it considers "properly buried."
FACT: The men of The Intrepid were interred without honor and remain buried in squalor while many others have been repatriated and buried with honor.

This Navy contention is completely false. There is no tradition whatsoever of leaving bodies of our combat veterans behind, provided they were, in fact, properly buried. The question is how does the U.S. Navy define "properly buried?"

According to Navy Regulations, all members of the US Navy who die while on active duty are entitled to a burial with full military honors. This includes a rifle squad, an officer or petty officer to lead the burial detail, a chaplain or clergyman, and the presentation of a flag to immediate family. (Bureau of Naval Personnel, NAVPERS 15555D, 1999 Revision, p. 6). Article 1-7 of Navy Funeral regulations call for a memorial service, with military honors, if the military cannot recover the remains of a deceased sailor or sailors, along with the erection of "memorial headstone" in a cemetery of the next of kin's choice (NAVPERS 15555D, p. 11). Finally, Navy Regulations allow for appropriate religious ceremonies to be part of any funeral.

The hasty burial of Richard Somers and the crew of the first USS Intrepid fail to meet any of the criteria the Navy sets out in its own regulations. The bodies of the men of The Intrepid were dragged through the streets of Tripoli, fed to wild dogs and dumped in mass graves. The shoreline burial of the officers and enlisted men took place literally at gunpoint without any of the honors set forth in the Navy regulations. Also, because of local law and customs, the flying of an American flag over the gravesite is forbidden, as is the use of any religious symbols.

The only markers designating the graves of the Intrepid crew as the sites of military dead are markers the Navy itself installed in 1949. Today these markers are shattered and have been for decades assuring the graves of The Intrepid heroes are not properly marked. Even though we could identify at least two of the crewmen with modern DNA tests, the Old Protestant Cemetery graves are nameless. The cemetery has been unmaintained for two centuries until recently when the crumbling walls were shored up. History proves any commitment by the new Libyan regime to maintain these graves cannot be taken seriously. Additionally, the Department of Defense only recently assured DoD personnel visited the graves once every five years.

One important consideration: we do not know the demeanor of the new Libyan government and all analysts agree that anything is possible. Will these DoD visits and proper maintenance be continued if the new Libyan regime turns out to be hostile to the United States?

The Somers crew aside, the Navy has, in the past 100 years, recovered thousands of remains from properly established cemeteries, most notably on Iwo Jima. In 1947, the Navy removed the remains of 6,812 sailors and Marines from Iwo Jima and returned them to family members for burial in cemeteries of their choosing. The most famous case of repatriation came in 1912 when the Navy, with White House backing, searched for, found and exhumed the remains of John Paul Jones from his "proper" grave in Paris to a crypt specially built in the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

There is another precedent: in 1987, 28 American bone sets from the War of 1812 were found buried at Fort Erie, Ontario and repatriated amid great ceremony between the two nations to the national cemetery at Bath, NY. None of these combat veterans had family requesting their return.

Finally, the Department of Defense also goes to great lengths to repatriate the remains of military dependants, most recently in Libya. In 2007, Air Force officials exhumed and returned the remains of 72 deceased Americans, believed to be family members of Airmen once stationed at Wheelus Air Base located outside of Tripoli. Seventy of these Americans were infants. The Air Force searched for graves, exhumed remains, repatriated the bodies, and is now spending time and money to locate the families of these Americans.

As these examples show, the Navy can and does make exceptions to its "tradition" and the Department of Defense goes to great lengths to repatriate servicemen and their families. The heroic Intrepid crew certainly deserves the same treatment afforded infants born overseas in peacetime.
4. NAVY: The repatriation of The Intrepid crew would detract from the ongoing search for World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War personnel who remain missing in action.
FACT: This contention is a canard, both false and misleading.

The Intrepid Project has completely researched the gravesites, working with US and Libyan historians and authorities. There is no need to send teams of archaeologists, forensic anthropologists, sailors, Marines, chaplains and others fanning out across Tripoli to seek possible gravesites of The Intrepid crew. The Intrepid Project has pinpointed the sites that contain the remains of the crew and has provided, on multiple occasions, a thorough history of the gravesites. (See attached chronology of the Old Protestant Cemetery.) The Navy itself, working with Libyan authorities, marked five graves as belonging to the Intrepid crew. For the Navy to now claim it cannot identify the resting place of at least part of the crew is to deny its own research.
5. NAVY: Many other American families continue to await location and repatriation of their loved ones. It is inappropriate for this legislative measure to assure the Intrepid remains should jump to the front of the line.

FACT: The Navy should have repatriated the men of The Intrepid long ago.

There are offices within the Pentagon responsible for repatriating the remains of our war dead and they work hard to complete their mission. But The Intrepid crew should have been taken care of first: they are the oldest remains still outstanding. We know where these men are buried. The others who are not accounted for are missing and the Department of Defense does not know where they are today.
6. NAVY: There are prohibitive costs involved with the repatriation of The Intrepid crew.
FACT: This contention is completely false and a red herring tactic in tough economic times.

The Intrepid repatriation mission would be a fairly simple recovery and expenditures would be minimal. All these costs will be borne under the present $450 billion budget of the Department of Defense. In fact, the Senate language directs DoD to use existing funds under the discretion of the Secretary of Defense.
7. NAVY: The US should create a monument in the Old Protestant Cemetery commemorating the battles of Tripoli and dedicated to the war dead on both sides of the conflict. The removal of any US remains from the conflict would hamper this effort.
FACT: After 207 years this imaginary monument has never transpired and the Libyan government will not likely honor our heroes appropriately.

The Navy should decide which story is correct: either the remains in the Old Protestant Cemetery belong to The Intrepid crew or they do not. If they are not the crew's remains, then the argument is moot. If the remains are those of The Intrepid crew, then they are unnecessary to any monument as there are another 24 American war dead whose remains are completely lost to history - 17 men from the U.S. Mediterranean squadron and seven crewmen from the frigate Philadelphia who suffered and died while in captivity.

Any monument hinges on Libyan participation and permission. Although the Libyans would almost certainly support building a monument, local history celebrates the "victory" of the Barbary Pirates over the US Navy. "Secrets," the Libyan history of the Old Protestant Cemetery, refers specifically to Somers and The Intrepid crew as the "American invaders." Rather than force or cajole the Libyans into building a monument to an "enemy" the locals historically despise, the culturally responsible act would be to remove the remains while building a suitable monument to commemorate both sides of the conflict.
CONCLUSION: The United States Navy celebrates the mission of the Intrepid and includes Richard Somers, Henry Wadsworth and their men in its pantheon of early heroes. The service also credits Somers with helping to shape the traditions of courage, loyalty and integrity it still expects its officers and sailors to meet. But for some reason they won't afford Somers and his men the burial with honor they deserve.

If the Navy provides your Senator any of the reasons for continued inaction listed above, you must reject their arguments and vote to repatriate the heroes of the USS Intrepid who remain in Libya today, lying in anvil chorus.