Sunday, September 7, 2008

Questions on Repatriation of Intrepid Crew

Renee Richardson writes,


I recently came upon your site concerning the "Intrepid". Having just finished "Six Frigates", "Jefferson’s War" and "The Pirate Coast" I was looking about on the internet for additional information, what a very interesting bit of history.

I am curious about the repatriation however, as the responsibility for repatriation prior to WW II usually seems to fall to the Service, unless the individual(s) have already been interred—in which case the Service will decline the request (as the mariners have been interred, it is likely the Navy should and will say "no". Additionally the Navy/Libyans had a dedication ceremony in 1949 indicating the Service considers Tripoli to be the final resting place of these brave souls). Or the cost of repatriation falls to the individual family(ies) of the deceased.

RR: 1) That being the case who would bear the cost of this repatriation?

Bill Kelly: It has never been a question of cost or responsibility. The United States Navy, specifically the Department of Defense (DOD) Office of POW/MP is responsible for the repatriation. [ ]

BK: It is necessary to understand that here are two burrial sites, the original, unmarked, September 5, 1804 burrial site just off the beach and below the walls of the old castle fort, and the remains of five reinterred in the 1930s at the Old Prodestant Cemetery, neither of which were ever meant to be permenant resting places. The Navy/Libyan ceremony certainly does not indicate that the Navy Service "considers Tripoli to be the final resting place of these brave souls." It has always been the intention of the Somers family and the policy of the U.S. Navy to repatriate the remains.

R.R.: 2) Assuming the US Government/Service might choose to absorb the cost, why should these remains (which are properly buried) receive a priority of exhumation/transportation over the 80,000 plus remains around the world awaiting excavation, and identification from WW II, Korea, the Cold War and the Southeast Asia conflict?

BK: There are over 80,000 missing in action from WWII and the Korean War. The men of the USS Intrepid are not missing, as we know exactly where they are. They've just been listed as MIA and the POW/MP office has acknowledged that the crew of the Intrepid is the oldest, active, repatriation case on file.

RR: The families of the "Intrepid" crew, know exactly what happened, they blew up, and they were buried. We even know where some/most/all are buried "Tripoli" in the Protestant Cemetery, along with several Italians and Dutch. That is not the case with so many of the lost from WW II, Korea and Southeast Asia, while the team at Dover is no doubt very good as you put it, they are a limited and costly resource that is engaged in the work to identify and repatriate those who had no real resting place, no grave, no identity even of the remains—and living immediate or at the least first and second generation family members awaiting disposition.

BK: It is true that the DOD in general, and the Navy and USMC in particular do not want to take on the mission of repatriation of these men, especially when there's two wars going on two fronts and all the services are very busy. But the political situation and the military interests are shifting and it will soon be in everyone's favor to locate and secure the original grave site and properly repatriate the remains of these men.

RR: 3) Do all 13 families desire the disinterment of the comingled graves?

BK: I don't know but that's a good question and you can help try to identify some of their relatives so we can obtain DNA samples from their families as is being done with Somers and Wadsworth, in order to positively identify their remains from the others. According to the most recent report (DIA newsletter), the Marines don't consider any of them leathernecks, though you would think they would check hard to see if even one of the ten volunteers was a marine. I don't think they even bothered to look.

In any case, besides the officers Somers and Wadsworth, both from famous and influencial families, there's the young Midshipman, Joseph Israel, who was sent out to take a message to Somers and enlisted himself in the mission as the unlucky thirtheeth man. Then from the USS Nautilus was "Bos'n" James Simms, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the deck, and three other men from the Nautilus, Thomas Tompline, James Harris and William Keith. From the USS Constitution were William Harrison, Robert Clark, Hugh McCormick, Peter Penner, Issac Downes and Jacob Williams.

RR: 4) If not, is the encouragement of that disinterment not potentially repugnant to present-day descendants of the deceased and should their wishes not also be respected? As a mother, I for one would not desire that my loved ones remains be disturbed or removed from the final resting place. As a tax-payer, I can think of better uses for those funds as well.

BK: Well, you can call up any Somers in the Somers Point, New Jersey phonebook and ask them if they think it "repugnant to disturb or remove them from their final resting place" and I can assure you that they will tell you that their native son Richard Somers died fighting the Tripoli pirates and he's been burried behind enemy lines and they want him home. They even have a grave site waiting for him. As tax payers and famlies of casualities in combat, they can think of no better use of military funds than to repatriate the remains of their families and all Americans. "No one left behind" is as much a policy as "millions for defense but not one cent for tribute."

RR: 5) The graves have no names, they merely annotate that these are sailors lost in the explosion of the "Intrepid", thus we know not who is in what grave and the potential cost to discover that is prohibitive and of a much lesser priority than the identification of more recent losses.

BK: The five reinterred remains in the Old Prodistent Cemetery were discovered and placed there by an occupying Italian army. The five are most likely seamen, as the three officers were burried nearby in a separate grave. The remains of the officers can be identified by DNA. The cost to retreive and repatriate the remains of US servicemen is estimated by the POW/MP office at around $35,000 to $50,000, depending on how difficult it is, primarily geographically. To a government Department that receives and spends hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars routinely, that is not a prohibitive cost. Can you imagine if the families of those killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan were asked to pay for the return of the remains of their son?

RR: 6) Although these are indeed brave men who died engaged in the war to thwart the Beshaw and the Barbary Pirates—an enormously significant and formative action in our nation’s history, what exact purpose is served in digging up, and dragging home the mixed and unspecified bones of these worthy seamen?

BK: Besides honoring our national policy of retreiving the remains of those killed in action, there are many positive purposes served in "digging up and dragging home the mixed and unspecified bones," most imporant being the education of students, active servicemen and women and curious taxpayers. The DOD POW/MP office are very professional at what they do, and archelogically and forensically excavate the graves in order to learn as much possible.

While the cemetery grave site is secure, and can remain so, the original grave site has been disturbed by the Libyans, who discovered "bones and buttons," that may now be sitting in shoe boxes on a shelf in the old castle fort museum. The original grave site must be identified and secured and the remains there properly removed and repatriated home, in exactly the way the remains of servicemen today are returned.

R.R.: On a different note I have your well done book "300 Years at the Point" did not realize you were the same person (blog and book) until I was reading along on your site. Wonderfully enjoyable work.

BK: Why thank you Renee. If you read the chapter on Richard Somers you'll understand it all much better.

Bill Kelly can be reached at

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