Repatriate Somers Update - Feb. 2009
Even in dire economic times the Somers Point Historical Society didn't have much trouble selling out their tickets to the wine tasting benefit for historic plaques at Charlie's Bar.
Now its time to begin working on raising funds for another historic marker - the grave monument for Lt. Richard Somers once his remains are repatriated home from Tripoli.
Once considered impossible, given the circumstances, it is now about to happen as diplomatic relations improve, US representatives are on the ground, and a new ambassador is about to move to Tripoli, the first official representaive in decades.
One of the first duties of the new ambassador will be to resolve the issues of the missing US servicemen in Tripoli, including the US Navy pilot whose plane was shot down during Operation El Dorado Canyon (15 April 1986) and the thirteen men of the USS Intrepid, who washed ashore Tripoli harbor two hundred and four years to the day that Condi Rice visited there last September.
The first US State Deptartment personell to arrive in Tripoli sent back photos of the cemetery site, and other US embassy employees and military attaches cleaned up the cemetery and secured the gate with a lock.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D.NJ), my representative, held up the Congressional approval of the US ambassador to Libya until the families of the victims of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and the German disco bombing received the financial renumeration that was promised.
Now that is settled, Senator Lautenberg should be just as committed to the repatriation of the remains of the American servicemen as he was in getting the renumerations to the families of the victims of terrorism.
Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid and the US airman who died in battles at Tripoli harbor two hundred years apart, were fighting for the same ideals we continue to fight for today. Now that the Libyans and the United States are resolving the issues that led to these conflicts, it is time to address the issues of the repatriation of the remains of the men of the Intrepid.
Besides the cemetery site, where the remains of five Intrepid sailors are burried, the original grave site of the men of the Intrepid, which contains the remains of eight others, including the officers - Somers, Lt. Wadsworth and Lt. Israel, must be secured as soon as possible.
Permenant historical markers/monuments should be placed at the original grave site after it is properly escavated by the POW/MP unit, and a new marker and a flag staff should be installed at the cemetary site.
According to the US represenatives on the ground in Tripoli, the Libyans are renovating the area around the cemetery site, making it a park, so they realize that this site is popular with many of the Americans who come to Triopoli, at least from the first arrivals.
The marker for the original grave site should probably be small, and not obtrusive, as it is located in the park adjacent to the old castle fort. The marker at the cemetery could be larger, as it would be inside the walls of the cemetery.
Sen. Lautenberg and the new ambassador, in their dealings with the Libyans, must now get permission for the US Navy and the POW/MP office to escavate the original grave site, and to come to an agreement for the USA to maintain and secure the cemetery site, much like the US government maintains the military cemeteries at Flanders and Normandy.
Because the Old Prodestant Cemetery holds the remains of more than just the five US sailors from the USS Intrepid, it may be necessary to include the British in the deal, as many of the graves are of the families of British diplomats. The cemetery, at one time, was next door to the British Rod & Gun Club, apparently a private social club.
The cost of the security and maintenance of the cemetery site should not be much, and the cost of the monuments at both sites in Tripoli and the Richard Somers grave site in Somers Point (NJ) should be in the tens of thousands of dollars, an amount that could be raised through public donations from Somers family, Somers Point citizens, veterans and history buffs.
Therefore, besides the Navy's responsibility for the cost of escavating the original grave site and repatriation of those remains, the maintenance of the cemetery site and placement of historic markers would not come to any cost for the taxpayers.
Just as the Somers Point Historical Society raised the money for the local historic plaques with a wine tasting at Charlie's, it should be easy and fun to raise the necessary funds for the grave markers for Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid.
Besides having a non-profit organization generating the funds for Somers' gravestone and markers at Tripoli gravesites, it has been suggested that cooperation between the Libyans and Americans could be facilitated by the cooperation and collaboration of other non-profits, such as schools (for student exchange program), hospitals (for treatment and education) and veterans organizations.
According to most reports, American servicemen and women stationed at Wheelus AFB in Tripoli had a very amiable relationship with the Libyans, and thoroughly enjoyed their stay there, visiting the old castle fort museum, ancient Roman ruins and, of course, the Old Prodestant Cemetery, where official ceremonies were held on American holidays. Every veteran once stationed at Wheelus I talked to have expressed the desire to return there someday, and together with the veterans wanting to go to "the Shores of Tripoli" and visit the graves of the American sailors, along with exchange students on archelogy field trips, as well as American businessmen and oil technicians, every American who goes to Tripol will want to visit the grave site.
Since the Libyans are now cleaning up the area around the cemetery and making it into a park, perhaps they get the idea that Americans will want to visit there, and possibly encourage a little tourist industry? That thought was also suggested in the article about the military attache who secured the cemetery site and is in contact with the curator of the museaum at the old castle fort.
The biggest factor remaining however, is the disposition of the original gravesite, and what became of the "bones and buttons" the Libyans discovered a few years ago?
To determine that, the government of Libya must permit the Navy and US POW/MP office to identify, examine and recover the remains of the men of the Intrepid at the original grave site, and allow for the USA to assume security and maintenance of the Old Prodestant Cemetery.
Then one day, maybe the Somers Point Historical Society can open a hot dog and souvineer stand at the site to raise the money to maintain it as a permenant historical site.