Guest Post by William Wadsworth and Dean Somers
Mr. Wadsworth is a state representative in Connecticut and a relation of Henry Wadsworth who was killed on board the USS Intrepid in 1804. Mr. Somers is a resident of Somers Point, New Jersey and a relation of Richard Somers, also killed on the Intrepid.

This week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is discussing an amendment that requires the Department of Defense to repatriate the remains of 13 sailors of the USS Intrepid buried in Libyan mass graves. When passed, the U.S. Navy’s first heroes would be brought home.

One of those heroes is Master Commander Richard Somers, who hailed from the humble seaside city of Somers Point, New Jersey. Another is Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth of early Massachusetts, uncle to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Both are celebrated forbears of our families, and we have worked to bring our ancestors home for 207 years.

For two centuries the Navy has opposed repatriating its earliest heroes. Today, it has been quietly lobbying Congress to stop our contemporary effort. Its arguments against repatriation are incorrect and no excuse for leaving these heroes interred unceremoniously on the shore of Tripoli.

The Pentagon insists the Navy did not follow the “no man left behind” policy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead, casualties were buried at sea. In fact, Somers and his men were not buried at sea. Their bodies washed ashore after their ketch exploded in Tripoli harbor on 4 September 1804. They were then dragged through the streets, fed to a pack of wild dogs and then recovered, identified, and buried. American prisoners of war they were fighting to free had been forced at gunpoint to dig two mass graves.

Clearly, our ancestors did not receive an honorable burial.

The Navy also claims the graves of these heroes in Tripoli are similar to American military cemeteries at Flanders, Normandy, or Tunisia, where thousands of Americans are buried under rows of white crosses and flags. These pristine cemeteries are owned by the United States government and maintained by the American Battlefield Monument Commission, which does not maintain the graves of the men of the Intrepid now buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli.

In fact, all evidence backs up historical indications that the remains of most of these great American heroes now lie together in that Tripolitan cemetery, where they are regarded as “American Invaders.” The cemetery is owned by Libya and was left squalid, untended, and in disrepair for over a century. Even though the collapsing walls of the place were recently shored up, we worry what will happen to their unkempt graves in the years ahead – and so should the Navy.

The families of servicemen killed during World War II were given a choice: their remains could be returned home or buried with their comrades. The Somers and Wadsworth families have continuously asked for the return of the remains of Richard, Henry, and their men. We found support among a large and growing bipartisan group of congressmen and senators not satisfied with the Navy’s position. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars also back our effort full-force.

Today, the families of the Intrepid heroes find hope in the House-Senate conference on the National Defense Authorization Act. We were thrilled in May when the House unanimously passed a bipartisan amendment to bring our family members home. Unfortunately, the Navy stepped up its lobbying efforts in the Senate to stop it dead.

In 2007, the U.S. Air Force quietly exhumed the bodies of 72 Americans from Tripoli’s Hammangi Cemetery and returned them to the United States. All but two were infants; all were unknown civilian relatives of American military stationed there in peacetime from 1958 to 1969. No family sought their repatriation. Still, they are home. Yet our brave sailors lie in anvil chorus.

The Navy’s case against repatriating our fallen heroes rings hollow, informed by outdated and incorrect research. We speak for the families of these sailors and plead for Admiral Greenert to reconsider the position he inherited. Instead of blocking our families’ request of two centuries, we ask the service to help honor the valorous service of the 13 heroes of the USS Intrepid and bring our boys home, at long last, for the respectful and dignified burial they earned on the shore of Tripoli.

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  • Guaman

    Is this all Congress has to deal with? Please apply some perspective to this; your position as a representative of your constituency is being overshadowed by personal considerations.

    My appreciation for all those who lost their lives in defense of our nation is great and that includes the MIA of the wars and those buried at sea.

    When we pass, as is the destiny of us all, what will live on is what we have done while here. Time will combine it into the collective good deeds committed by each of us and our ancestors that built the situation we are now in. If you wish to honor them, commit more good deeds and look to the future rather than become rather than focusing on something so far in the past. I cannot speak for the fallen, but I do speak from the present. We honor them best by continuing the values they died for. Again, perspective is in order here.

  • Generally, you are correct: we must honor our combat casualties in many ways, including continuing their values and keeping perspective. But we must also honor their families wishes and Washington has never done this for these men. Ever. The families have begged for 200 years and have been rebuffed at every turn. Every time.

    Washington is to blame for it now being 207 years later, not the families. We must honor their wishes or our commitment to our combat veterans and their families means nothing.

    Values. Perspective. Appreciation. Good deeds. And honor commitments to the fallen and their families.

    None of these are worth anything without the other.

  • David R.Stahlecker

    I feel that the Navy and Congress are being deliquent in returning these men who gave their lives for their country home. When those of us who served raised our right hand, it was a given that should we fall every effort would be made to put us to an HONORABLE RESTING PLACE. We see this as an ongoing task with the unearthing and returns of remains from Viet Nam and the area around it. The men are releasd after ID, and then buried in an Honorable place. Should the men of the Intrepid recieve anything less, for Libya is not an Honorable location for them….As to the cost, it’s amazing that congress can find money for things to make them look good, WHY can’t they find the money for a group of brave men.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    They are in an abandoned burial ground which is in deteriorating condition, in LIBYA, undefended against desecration, which seems likely if not inevitable.

    The circumstances of their mission and their deaths are such that their resting place should be a shrine.

    Instead, no honors since the late 1940s. Abandoned. Forgotten.

    We are not talking the American cemetery behind the Normandy beaches, or on Saipan.

    We can do better than this, for the crew of Intrepid and Master Commandant (Commander) Somers.

    Our heroes.

  • Byron

    Guaman, the families wish them to come home. Their grave, unlike man around the world, is in a land that despises our honored dead. Bring them home.

  • As a navy daughter/grandaughter,I to fell it is time to bring them home.This is the job that is required of us. The risks go along with it.But when w are in hostile territory,we honor our dead with dignity, respect. Bring them to there final resting place. That is home.

  • AJ Castilla

    My friends, this issue is a deep and most spiritual one for our nation and I respect everyone’s posted opinion. Here’s my own: I can’t imagine that any volunteer military person’s family whom would ever loan them in service to our country, possibly making the ultimate sacrifice, as so many long have and shall do in the future…if said volunteer’s family knew that their employing military branch guardian and one U.S. senator [whom I voted for as a potential Commander-in-Chief]…would block the morally required rescue of their fallen loved one’s remains. All these loyal poor descendant families desire, is a dignified transfer from one of the poorest looking supposed resting places ever, Tripoli, Libya…to back HERE…where they always deserved to be in the first place. In the deepest spirit of patriotism, as a combat veteran myself—I hope that no American would ever deem to pick and choose when, or, if, any hero national servant gets left behind or not. We must be a better military, a better Congress, and, a better nation than ever leaving any military employee behind. Not, like when in this case—we know exactly where these thirteen earliest of U.S. war heroes lay. Nor when any family wants them brought home. History stares our nation in the face on this, so we must not look the other way as if it doesn’t really concern us, or, isn’t somehow, a now current issue of importance. Call your Congressional and Senate elected tomorrow via the Capitol Hill Switchboard: (202) 341-6241 Request they not support, but ACT…to have the USS Intrepid crew remains brought home by insuring HR.1497 and S.1138 stays in the National Defense Authorization Act 2012. As for the costs, it shouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime as fundraising to cover any expense here began awhile back.

  • AJ Castilla

    Sorry posters…please make that phone to your Washington elected on Capitol Hill tomorrow at: (202) 224-3121

  • Following Guaman’s logic, we should leave our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan too. Bill Kelly –