Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Repatriation and Unrest in Africa

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American Cemetery Tunisia


At the 27-acre North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Tunisia rest 2,841 of our military dead, their headstones set in straight lines subdivided into 9 rectangular plots by wide paths, with decorative pools at their intersections. Along the southeast edge of the burial area, bordering the tree-lined terrace leading to the memorial is the Wall of the Missing. On this wall 3,724 names are engraved. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. Most honored here lost their lives in World War II in military activities ranging from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.

The chapel and the memorial court, which contains large maps in mosaic and ceramic depicting the operations and supply activities of American forces across Africa to the Persian Gulf, were designed to harmonize with local architecture. The chapel interior is decorated with polished marble, flags and sculpture.

This cemetery in Tunisia is not far - a few hundred miles - from the Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli, Libya, where five men from the first USS Intrepid are burried, along with over a hundred graves of diplomats and their families, mostly Christian, many British but some from other countries.

The Chief of Naval Operations has designated those graves of the five American Navy men from the Intrepid burried in the Old Protestant Cemetery as their perminent resting spot, so they will not be repatriated. The employees of the American Embassy in Tripoli have secured the cemetery grave site, got the Libyans to reinforce and repair the cemetery walls, and are prepared to have an historic plaque and flag poles replaced.

The original Green Square grave site, where the three officers and five men of the Intrepid are still burried in an unmarked grave, is not secure however, and is in constant danger of being violated by development, crowds and amateur archelogists.

With the current unrest in Tunisia, where the protests against authoritive, dictorial regimes began in late 2010, Egypt, Yeman and other countries in Africa and the Middle East, it's quite possible the turmoile could spread to Libya and further threatened both grave sites in Tripoli.

A soccer match between the Libyan national team and Morrocco was cancelled in fear of the sports crowds turning unrully, and some disidents in Bengazi have begun hunger strikes with the intention of trying to rally support against the Quadafi government.

A change in governments would not necessarily be in the best intrests of those who want to see the repatriation of Somers and the Intrepid men at the Green Square grave site because we already have the support of the Quadfai Charities Foundation and the tasit approval of the Quadafi government, as well as the vocal support of the US Ambassador Mr. Gene Cretz.

It is the US Department of Defense, the US military, who are resisting the efforts to repatriate the remains of these men, by refusing to even acknowledge the existence of the original Green Square grave site, which is located a few hundred yards east of the Old Castle Fort and Museum.

The exact location of this grave site, which was partially excavated by the Libyans in 2006, can be pin pointed by examining satellite photos of the area taken over time.

The location of the original grave site can be located by zeroing in on a football field size plot of ground - just over one hundred and fify yards east of the walls of the old castle fort. While most of this area is now a paved square that is used as a parking lot, there are pockets of grass and trees throughout the area, and it is within one of these plots of grass where the original grave site is located.

This is also the area where Mussolini gave his speech, Rommel ploted his strategy and where Quadafi celebrated the recent anniversary of his 1969 revolution. The Volkswagon that he rode into town is now enshrined in the Museum at the Old Castle Fort, where the relics go back three and four thousand years.

The 200 year old graves of American navy men at Green Square is like yesterday to them, and they pretty much ignore it and for the most part don't even know it is there.

And if the protests expand to Libya and there are protests in Tripoli, you can bet they will happen there, right on top of the graves of the American heros.

So the best strategy for those who want to see the repatriation of the remains of these men, is to sit tight, and wait and see how the current crisis and unrest plays out. In the meantime, we can educate people about these men, especially those who can assit in their return, and bring everybody up to speed on everything we know at this point in time. Then when things stabalize, be prepared to have the DOD POW MP team go in there with a camera crew and record their removal of the remains and their return home.

The remains of these men should be treated like those of all military men who are killed in the line of duty today - they should be transported to the American military hospital in Germany where they should be given routine autopsies, using the latest technology available. Their DNA should be obtained and tested against those from the Somers, Wordsworth and Israel families and any other families of the men who can be found, and the bodies of the officers identified.

The officers may be able to be identified by the buttons of their uniforms, which may have survived deteriation. Then they should be placed in caskets with flags draped over them and flown to the USAF base at Dover, Delaware, and if necessary, further pathological tests taken.

The president of the association of USS Intrepid veterans has suggested that a proper and formal Repatriation Ceremony be conducted for these men on the deck of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, after which the officers can be taken by their families to their hometowns of Somers Point, Maine and Maryland, while the remains of the five sailors are escorted to Arlington National Cemetary and burried in plots reserved for them in 1980 by Congress.

For this to happen however, it must be prepared like a military mission, as it will be, and conducted at the first opportunity after the situation there is secure.

William Kelly

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