American Legion Magazine May, 1977 (VOl. 102, #4)
NOTES ON OUR DESK
MEMORIAL DAY brings to mind visions of immaculate national cemeteries abroad where so many thousands of Americans rest in peace, but author Melba Edmunds reminds us of a tiny corner of America that is marked and preserved in far-off Libya, on the shores of Tripoli.
This is how she found it:
Already the glare of the morning sun had beaten the waves into submission. From the modern asphalt highway, weathered stone steps made their way towards the sea. On one side was the whitewashed wall of the British Rod and Gun Club; on the other side was a well-repaired stone wall. The steps turned abruptly and clug to the cliff. The rocks below were green from the dampness of the Mediterranean.
The stone steps stopped at a small opening in the wall. Inside, the vaulted doorway framed a picturesque seascape. A tanker rode on the blue-purple sea. White birds floated in and out of view.
The Arab who approached could have been a traveler on the road to Emmaus, or he could have watched the Turkish Pasha on the palace ramparts. Th unbleached wool he wore served as a protection from the cold at night and the heat of the sun by day. His skin had lost the dark swarthy color of his youth. It made a fragile pale frame for his still intense dark eyes.
"Kiel haiek," he said in greeting. He held out his hand for a coin. Then, leaning on his cain, he withdrew to sit silently in the shade.
The walls enclosed an area not larger than half a city lot. On top of the stone floor were positioned stone burial crypts about the size of a coffin. Markers noted the deceased. Most were members of the embassy families who had served in Tripoli during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Babies, children, and young mothers seemed to dominate the tiny Christian cemetery. One marker mourned a young man who had lived without enemies, but had been killed by assassins.
In the northeast corner of the room-like cemetery, a gnarled olve tree spread its limbs over five stone coffins. On each crypt a bronze marker has been placed:
"Here lies an American sailor who gave his life in the explosion of the U.S. ship Intrepid in Tripoli harbor Sept. 4, 1804."
A plaque on the wall reads:
"Here lie five sailors of the American ship Intrepid, who lost their lives in the battle against the Barbary Coast Pirates Sept. 4, 1804. The honor we accord them for their heroism is no less because their names are unknown. - errected by The Wheelus Air Force Wives Club."
The waves could be heard splashing gently against the rocks below. Americans have left Wheelus Air Force Base.
The old Arab seemed to have faded into the colorless wall. The sun shortened the shadows and increased the heat. But the five young American sailors continued their long sleep under the ancient olive tree.
[Bill Kelly notes: This article sparked a concerted effort to repatriate the remains of the Intrepid Crew in the early 1980s, which led to Congressman William Hughes (D. 2nd. N.J.) to sponsor a congressional resolution that ensures their will be a permenant resting place for the men of the Intrepid at Arlington National Cemetery. ]