Al Megrahi & Richard Somers
The Famous & Forgotten
By William Kelly
Al Megahri and Richard Somers, though separated by two centuries in time, crossed paths briefly at Green Square, Tripoli, where Al Megahri was honored on the 40th anniversary of the Ghaddafi coup and where Somers lies buried with his men in an unmarked, desecrated grave.
Famously convicted in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al Megrahi is now world renown for having received a hero’s homecoming at Tripoli after being released by a Scottish judge on humanitarian grounds.
Richard Somers, the forgotten American naval hero, led a special mission against the Barbary pirates that ended in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804, an event that still resonates today.
The body of Somers and his men were recovered and buried near the old Red Castle, where they remain to this day, despite the efforts of the Somers’ family, the citizens of Somers Point, New Jersey, and the veterans who have sought the repatriation of the remains of the men of the USS Intrepid.
According to Col. Mommar Gaddafi’s son Saif, Al Megrahi’s name was mentioned during every meeting held between Libya and Great Britain over trade, oil and arms, while the repatriation of Somers and the men of the Intrepid has yet to be officially mentioned. This is the case even though then Secretary of State Condi Rice met with Gaddafi 204 years to the day the men of the Intrepid washed ashore and Sen. John McCain led a Senate delegation to Tripoli to discuss oil, trade and arms deals, but made no mention of repatriation of the remains of the Navy heroes.
A number of other Republican senators were with McCain's delegation, but none of them publicly mentioned the missing MIAs or broached the subject with the Libyans, probably because they were unaware of them.
Two presidential proclomations and a State of Pennsylvania resolution honoring John Barry, and one New Jersey State resolution honoring Richard Somers requires that their stories be taught in public schools, and similar resolutions have been introduced requiring the teaching of the Holocaust and 9/11, but it futile to force school children to learn certain aspects of American history when our representatives, diplomatic and military leaders are ignorant of it.
It isn't the school children who should be taught about Richard Somers and the Barbary Pirates, it is our own diplomats and military men like McCain, a Navy man who should have put his priorities straight and asked about the remains of the men of the Intrepid and the Navy flyer missing since Operation El Dorado Canyon. Instead they ship McCain out to view some old Roman ruins, distracting him from the real unfinished duties at hand, of which he is totally oblivious.
It is also the fault of the US Embassy personnel at Tripoli, who have learned about the Old Protestant Cemetery site, secured and maintained it, but have failed to secure the original grave site or brief visiting dignataries of the American graves.
Secretary of State Condi Rice visited on September 5, 2008, two hundred and four years to the day the bodies of the men of the Intrepid washed ashore, yet she was blissfully unaware of the signifiance of the anniversary of the occasion, and use it as a non-partisan, unpolitical issue that they can get immediate results on.
It seems that every American visitor new to Tripoli finds the old cemetery site and thinks that is a long lost and forgotten treasure, an incredible story that must be retold. And it is an incredible story, but one that not should have to be rediscovered by every American visitor new to Tripoli.
The Officer's Wives from Wheeler Air Force Base did their duty and maintained the Old Protestant Cemetery for as long as they were there, and then it fell into disrepair and was forgotten until two American women from New Jersey stumbled upon it and wrote about the cemetery site in a Veterans magazine.
That stimulated a renewed effort to obtain the return of the remains of the Americans in Tripoli, but since we were engaged in combat with Libya at the time(See: Operation El Dorado Canyon), Rep. William Hughes did what he could, and got a Congressional Resolution reserving space at Arlington National Cemetery for the reinterment of the remains of the men of the Intrepid.
More recently, the first American government report on US relations with Libya mention the Return Richard Somers Committee of the Somers Point (NJ) Historical Society, and the efforts to repatriate these remains. The first State Department employees in Tripoli went to the cemetery and sent back reports and photos.
But when the first US Military attache arrived in Tripoli, he had to be told about the cemetery site by a cab driver.
One year ago, shortly before US Ambassador Gene Cretz arrived at his post, I sent him and email updating the situation, and received a response from a newly arrived charge d'affairs, who had met with the Director of Antiquities at the official museum at the old Red Castle fort. This officer promised to mention the original grave site to the Director, and ask about the 2004 excavation of the original grave site when they discovered "buttons and bones."
But now, a year later, that Charge d'affairs has been rotated out of Tripoli and is now back in Washington at another desk, and the new military attache discovers the cemetery grave site, talks with the Director of Antiquities about the restoration of the cemetery site, and two other nearby historic sites - the wreckage of the USS Philadelphia and USS Intrepid.
But he has no knowledge of the original grave site, and in a feature article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is quoted as saying the original grave site "is lost to history." (See; CPD story).
It seems every time a new military attache or Charge d' affairs arrives in Tripoli, they have to learn about the Old Protestant Cemetery from cab drivers, things they should know from the reports of their predessors.
I know of at least two such official reports, one from a women colonel from the Pentagon POW/MP office, who visited Tripoli, and whose report, I understand, only mentions the cemetery site, and recommends that it remain as is, and not repatriated. These graves would then come under the jurisdiction of the US foreign graves section of the DOD, but the remains would still be subjected to DNA testing to determine if they are the remains of any of the officers of the Intrepid (Somers, Wadsworth, Israel), whose DNA can be identified.
The other document is a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report prepared for a Michigan Congessman who has had an interest in this issue, but he has not responded to my emails and his liason has moved on to another job. The author of the report however, has said that it is primarily concerned with only the cemetery site, and not the original grave site, and relies a lot on the research posted on this site. While CRS reports are not made available to the public, they can be obtained from the Congressman who has requested the report.
It is because these two reports fail to deal with the original grave site, that the position of the US military is that they don't know anything about it, and it's location "has been lost to history."
The only thing that has been lost to history is the failure of our educational school system, US military communications, the diplomatic corps and th government to provide basic historical information about American patriots.
Al Megrahi on the other hand, will be dead and buried long before anybody with any power and influence officially brings up the name Richard Somers with the Libyans.
And then people will want to know who is Richard Somers?
And they can be told that he is a long forgotten American Naval hero who is buried in a parking lot at the shores of Tripoli harbor.