Friday, May 27, 2011

Washington Calling- Bring Home Intrepid Crew

The US Fleet Attacks Pirate Fleet at Tripoli Harbor - 1804

Washcall: Bring home Intrepid crew's remains, bill urges

Submitted by SHNS on Fri, By LISA HOFFMAN, Scripps Howard News Service

WASHINGTON - The U.S. was deep in debt, propelled into the red in part by an exhausting war. Its citizens were under siege by evildoers from the Muslim lands of North Africa. Declaring enough was enough, American forces launched attacks on the enemy, with Tripoli most directly in the cross hairs.

While that scenario is remarkably similar to events of today, it actually took place more than 200 years ago, when the U.S. was engaged in a war against the Barbary pirates, who were wreaking havoc on our merchant ships on behalf of the Muslim rulers of what today are Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Tying that time to the current U.S.-NATO airstrikes on behalf of besieged rebels in Libya is one unfinished chapter of the earlier conflict -- variously called the First Barbary War or the Tripolitan War of 1801 to 1805.

And that unresolved matter has recently reached Congress, where two lawmakers want to right what they consider a grievous wrong.

In 1804, U.S. naval vessels launched a series of attacks on the enemy fleet in Tripoli's harbor, without much success. One of the most creative was attempted by the USS Intrepid, which its sailors fashioned into the ship equivalent of a roadside bomb. Packed with explosives, the Intrepid was to sail into the harbor, where it would be torched and the enemy fleet moored there would be destroyed by the blast.

But the Intrepid blew up prematurely on Sept. 4, 1804, killing the 13 American sailors aboard. Among the dead was Henry Wadsworth, uncle of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The men were buried in two mass graves in Libya, according to a series of contemporary and later accounts of witnesses to their location. But efforts to repatriate the remains to the U.S. have been thwarted since they began in 1840.

On April 12, two Republican congressmen -- Reps. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey -- introduced HR 1497, a resolution directing the Defense Department to arrange the exhumation and transfer of the remains to the U.S.

Space has been reserved for the sailors at Arlington National Cemetery.

The lawmakers hope the attention America is now giving to Libya will translate into a groundswell of support to finally bring the commander and his crew home.

In another echo from that troubled part of the world, the Navy officer who commanded the USS Cole when it was attacked in the Yemeni port of Aden is running for a seat in Congress.

Retired Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, a Nevada Republican, has announced that he will vie for the seat of GOP Rep. Dean Heller. Heller has been appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by John Ensign, who resigned.

Lippold, 51, was in charge on Oct. 12, 2000, when a dozen al-Qaida operatives in a small boat full of explosives pulled up close to the U.S. warship and detonated their makeshift bomb. The blast killed 17 sailors and injured dozens more, in what was then al-Qaida's most deadly attack on Americans.

The 9/11 attacks came less than a year later.

A Navy investigation said Lippold, a 26-year veteran of the sea service, probably could not have prevented the attack, and Navy reviewers recommended him for promotion to captain. But the U.S. Senate did not confirm him.

Among others he is likely to face in the primary is Sharron Angle, a Tea Party-movement stalwart who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid last fall.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at) For more columns, go to

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Washington Calling

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