Press of Atlantic City Article – Saturday, September 2, 2006 Atlantic County Regional p. 1
Group confident 1804 naval hero will be brought home
A group’s negotiations with Libya about the remains of Richard Somers were put on hold because of the fighting in Lebanon.
By Michael Clark
Staff writer. (609) 272-7204
SOMERS POINT – Despite the halt in negotiations between a group of residents and a Libyan organization to return the remains of U.S. Naval Commander Richard Somers, who was killed and buried in Libya more than 200 years ago, the group still expects a positive outcome.
The private negotiations with the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, which were initiated in February 2005, were put on hold recently because of the escalated violence in the Middle East.
Michael Caputo, the attorney for the determined group, which includes distant relatives of the commander, says members are respecting Gaddafi’s other priorities.
“We’re not waiting for a conclusion to the crisis. We are only waiting for its abatement,” Caputo said. “From the very beginning, the negotiations were positive and we are confident he will be home soon.”
Somers, who was the great-grandson of city founder John Somers, died September 4, 1804 during a battle in Tripolitian Harbor, in what is now Libya, between a U.S. fleet and a band of Barbary pirates. His ship, the Intrepid, was rigged to sail into the harbor and blow-up in the middle of the opposing fleet. But the ship self-destructed prematurely, killing Somers and his 12-member crew. The 13 bodies washed ashore and it was believed they were buried in Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli.
The Libyans, who seemed willing to do their part and return the body, claimed the remains were missing in 2004. According to Caputo, the group worked diligently to prove the body was in Libya, and in February the Libyans uncovered a mass grave and confirmed the remains included Somers.
Caputo says the group has also received significant help from Mayor Dan Reilly, who has been pushing for Somers’ return for several years because of his historical significance, not only to Somers Point but the entire country, he says.
“(Somers) was a significant war hero and signifies the beginning of the U.S. Navy,” said Reilly, who has also been organizing plans for a monument dedicated to the fallen leader. “We have secured a spot for the monument, and we have a grassroots organization working to gain funds. We hope to make it a tourist attraction at some point.”
Caputo said the group he represents, which is privately funded and has a budget of roughly $100,000, intends to travel to Libya to meet with representatives next year.
“We have been assured by our counterparts that they are on board and very excited about this,” said Caputo. “It’s not a question of if (Somers) will be returned, but when.”
There will be a ceremony held at 4 p.m. Monday to honor Somers on the grounds of the Somers Mansion at 1000 Shore Road.
To e-mail Michael Clark at The Press: Michael.Clark@pressofac.com