The Repatiration Game –
Elaborations on my remarks at Somers Mansion on Richard Somers Day
Sunday, September 13, 2009
The Repatriate Game
All of sudden it seems, within the span of one month, August 2009, there has been a spate of repatriations of prisoners and remains of soldiers that may indicate an important shift is taking place, one that will effect international trade and relations for years and possibly decades to come, and also affect the repatriation of Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid from Tripoli.
Bill Clinton visited North Korea on August 5, 2009 and returned with reporter-spies Laura Ling and Euna Lee, a celebrated event that has loosen tensions between North and South Korea and has been followed with further fraternal diplomatic exchanges.
Two weeks later Sen. Jim Web traveled to Burma to free wayward American John Yetaw, a religious fanatic who twice swam a lake to warn political prisoner Aung San Suv of a dream he had of her assassination. Nut case or not, both Laura Ling, Euna Lee and John Yetaw had influencial friends who got powerful politicians like Clinton and Web to make those moves.
On the same day Yetaw was freed, on August 16, 2009, after 18 years in the desert, the remains of Capt. Michael Scott Speicher were returned to his Jacksonville, Florida home. Speicher’s plane was shot down over Iraq on June 17, 1991, the first day of the first Iraq war, and speculation as to what became of him was the subject of many web pages, petitions, official investigations, a book and Congressional legislation.
The military had been looking for Speicher since the day he went down, and once his remains were located, there was no question as to whether, when or how they were to be repatriated, it was all a matter of routine.
While Speicher’s homecoming was not covered by the international or even national media or press, the entire world was pretty much shocked by the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish jail.
On August 20, convicted Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset ali Mohmed al Meghari was released “on compassionate grounds,” by Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, as he was suffering from cancer. While the shock of Meghari’s release had yet to settle in, many people were horrified to see the hero’s welcome he received at his homecoming in Tripoli, creating an uproar among the families of the victims and shaking American and British political ranks.
While the fallout from that escapade has yet to shake out completely, and probably won’t until at least after Ghaddafi’s visit to New York and the United Nations on September 24, Meghari was certainly the toast of Tripoli during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the September 1st 1969 coup that put Ghaddafi in power.
On the eve of that party, on August 31, the remains of Australian Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Corse were repatriated to Australia from Vietnam, having been lost in action on November 3, 1970. Escorted to their new graves by family and members of the air squadron, they were the last remaining Australian MIA, thus accounting for all of their men, while there are still 1800 US servicemen unaccounted for in SEA, 1, 335 in Vientam.
So in the month of August, 2009, seven prisoners or remains were repatriated to their homeland involving nine countries – the United States, Korea, Burma, Scotland, England, Libya, Iraq, Vietnam and Australia.
While I would think Clinton and Webb were moved by more than just “compassionate grounds,” and the power of oil, trade and arms deals seems to have weighed heavy on release of al Meghari, a lot of people were surprised at the sudden discovery and repatriation of the remains of Captain Michael Scott Speicher.
Speicher’s case is also relevant to Richard Somers because they are both Navy men and were buried in the desert.
Speicher’s remains were recovered with information from a new witness, a ten year old boy at the time of the crash of his plane, who reported that Speicher’s body was found and buried by a group of wandering Bedouins.
Col. Mohmar Ghaddafi is a Bedouin, and proud of his heritage, famously meeting with foreign dignitaries in his elaborate royal tent. That the Bedouins came across Speicher’s body and buried him at all is a testament to their sense of dignity, and the dry desert weather and sand acts as a natural preservative for the remains.
But there was some hope that Speicher had survived the crash and was taken prisoner, and many people believed that’s what happened. Over the years Speicher’s case changed from being classified as Missing In Action to Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered, and then with reports of him being captured and help prisoner, Missing/Captured. Now that we know what happened, the sources for the other reports can be reappraised, along with reports of other American POWs from other wars still being held in North Korea, China and Russia.
It also gives hope for the eventual finding of the remains of Captain Paul Lorence, who is presumed Killed In Action and listed Body Not Recovered after going missing in action during the April 15, 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon attack on Tripoli.
On December 25, 1988, via the Vatican, Libya returned the remains of Capt. Fernando Ribas-Dominicci of Puerto Rico, who also went missing on that mission.
But Captain Paul Lorence has never been accounted for, and like Captain Speicher, perhaps he too was buried by Bedouins, and someday the truth will come out, and his remains brought home and given a proper burial, with full military honors.
There may be two centuries that separate Captain Somers and Captain Speicher, but they are both Navy men who died on duty in combat, fighting for the same cause, and despite being the oldest MIA/BNR case on record, Somers, Wadsworth, Israel and the Intrepid crew should be treated in the same way as Speicher and our men who are killed in combat today.
There was no debate over whether their remains should be brought home, there was no discussion as to who would pay for it, or whose responsibility it was, the policy is simple and the procedures are clear.
Locating the grave site, as it was with Speicher, is not the problem with Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid, as we know exactly where they are buried. And like Captain Speicher, their remains should be treated like those of any other Navy man who is killed behind the lines. The remains of the men of the Intrepid should be retrieved from Green Square in Tripoli and returned home, so they can be given a proper burial, with full military honors. As is their due.
Al Meghari has had his homecoming, and now it is time for Richard Somers to come home.
Report From Tripoli -
There’s a lot happening besides the spate of repatriations. The new ambassador to Tripoli Gene Cretz has a professional embassy staff that includes a number of personnel who have taken it upon themselves to clean and upkeep the Old Protestant Cemetery site, and the military have officers on site who are negotiating with the Libyans about archelogical excavations of the harbor where the Philadelphia and the Intrepid washed ashore and sunk. There could be artifacts worth preserving, including cannon, masts and spars, swords and buttons.
The reports from the scene (from the article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer), and the photos indicate that the brick and cement wall of the cemetery is falling apart in places, and some $3,000 to $5,000. The historic plaque from the 1949 Navy ceremony is also missing, as well as the flag pole. While the Navy is responsible for the plaque, and the graves of the five men from the Intrepid, there are some 60 other graves in the cemetery, mainly the families of American, English and other European Christian diplomats from the 19th century.
I suggest that the people of Somers Point and New Jersey chip in and pay for the restoration of the cemetery walls, replace the 1949 plaque, place another plaque and a new flag pole and mention on the plaque it was donated by the citizens of Somers Point and New Jersey.
The remains of Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid will not be repatriated home until the name Richard Somers becomes a well known household cleche, and everyone knows the story.
We will have the opportunity to educate people about Richard Somers and promote his repatriation when Col. Mohmmar Khaddafi visits New York City to give an address at the UN on Thursday, September 24th.
While Khaddafi is at the UN uptown on the East River, across town the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier sits docked on the Hudson, a very large and imposing reminder that the story of the USS Intrepid at Tripoli harbor is still not over.
For more on Scott Speicher see:
Saga of Michael Scott Speicher comes to an end. Tim Engstrom, Pothole Prarie Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009
Cpt. Michael Scott Speicher, 1991, US Navy, Florid State http://www.bostonherald.com/news/national/south/view/20090907missing-man_flyover_will_honor_florida_state_graduate_shot_down_during_gulf_war/srvc=home&position=recent
Missing-man flyover will honor Florida State grad shot down during first Gulf War
Orlando Sentinel, Andrea Adelson.
Leave no man behind
Pat Roberts, U.S. Senator
Monday, August 17, 2009
THE 1991 GULF WAR is a fairly faded memory for most Americans who see Iraq now only through the current context. But for the family of one Gulf War veteran, the last 18 years have been full of unanswered questions and endless speculation as they waited to hear the fate of Navy pilot Captain Michael “Scott” Speicher.
Recently, the Speicher family finally got an answer: Captain Speicher’s remains have been positively identified after U.S. Marines, acting on a tip from a local Iraqi, found them in an unmarked grave in the desert.
For Scott’s family, this discovery enables them to move on with their grief and provide a proper burial for a military hero who grew up in Kansas. Finding Captain Speicher’s remains also fulfills a pledge — 18 years later — that the military makes to its own to “leave no man behind.”
For a time however, fulfilling that pledge was in doubt. I joined with Scott’s friends, family and colleagues to protest the Navy’s initial decision to classify his status as KIA, “Killed in Action” because there was simply no real proof to support that finding.
All we knew at the time was that Scott’s squadron had seen his plane go down on the first night of the war. Subsequently, the Secretary of Defense referred to Scott as the first casualty of the Gulf War, unintentionally confirming his death and halting efforts to find him.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a former Marine, I was moved when I heard Scott’s story. As I learned more about it, I agreed that without a body or proof of death at the crash site, no one could be certain Scott had perished.
I believe we owe it to our service members and their families to bring our troops home, no matter the cost. In 2000, I authored and passed legislation to ensure our intelligence agencies never stopped looking for Americans missing, captured or killed in conflict, no matter how difficult the charge.
Without confirmation on Scott’s status, I also helped force the Department of Defense to change his status from KIA to Missing and Missing/Captured. After a determined effort on behalf of the family, we achieved this change in October 2002.
Finally, due to our persistence, the DoD sent a team to the crash site to analyze what was left of the plane, including a portion of Scott’s flight suit that was recovered. The intelligence team found more questions than answers in the wreckage. Most tellingly, there was no body.
When we entered Iraq for the second time in 2003, finding Captain Speicher or his remains was a priority for the military. In the end, their perserverence paid off when human intelligence recently led the Marines to his remains, buried not far from his plane. The investigation continues even today regarding the exact cause of death.
While there was a time when I hoped I would see Scott standing in uniform again on American soil, I am relieved for his family that at least his story now has an end. His sacrifice and his legacy will pave the way for every other man and women who wears the uniform. We owe them nothing less than our best effort to leave no American behind.
If you would like to know more about issues before the Senate, visit Sen. Roberts’ Web site at http://roberts.senate.gov. For regular updates, sign up for a monthly e-newsletter, The Roberts Report.