Tuesday, July 5, 2011

PBS Radio Program Here & Now

Remains Of 19th Century U.S. Sailors Lie On The Shores Of Tripoli

Here & Now Guest: Dean Somers, descendant of Navy sailor whose remains are in Tripoli

New legislation would require the Pentagon to return the 200-year-old remains of 13 American soldiers from a mass grave in Tripoli.

During the First Barbary War in 1804, sailors on the USS Intrepid, led by Captain Richard Somers, died in a explosion when their ship was attacked. Legislation making its way through Congress would require the Pentagon to locate and return the remains for a military funeral.

Dean Somers, is one of the descendants of the U.S. sailors working with the Intrepid Project to return the bodies to the United States. Somers says his family is delighted and encouraged by the bill.

"We've still got a long way to go," Somers said. "But we're more and more hopeful every day."

LISTEN to the public radio story here:

PBS Radio Program: Here and Now

“From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli…”

Robin Young: From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli. As we know the US military is currently involved in a Naval led mission in Libya. But more than two hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson sent US forces there to fight pirates who were plundering US merchant ships in the Mediterranean. In September 1804 Capt. Richard Somers led a crew of 12 sailors, including the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s uncle, on a daring secret mission to blow up the fortress guarding the harbor in Tripoli.

They were spotted and attacked, all killed, and were buried in an unmarked grave, where they remain today, on the shores of Tripoli. Their decendants ever since have been trying to bring them home. He is a descedent of Captain Richard Somers.

So Dean, has the effort to bring him home been passed on from generation from generation? How did you take up this mantle after 200 years?

Dean Somers: I didn’t really follow this until I was 40 years old when my brother went down to the historical society and in their records found I was in the family line, and I’ve done a lot of research, and I have a great interest in this now.

Robin Young: Others have interest as well. Rep. Michael Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee is one who says there is a military ethos that we never leave anyone behind. What is it you and the descendants want?

Dean Somers: We want the bodies back so we can buy them correctly on American soil. It’s a discrace to have left their bodies over there for two hundred years.

Robin Young: This is an uncomfortable part of the story, but there wasn’t much left. I mean the ruler of the area we now know as Libya, who ran these pirates, apparently when their bodies washed up on shore, sent attack dogs after them.

Dean Somers: Yes, their remains were attacked by dogs.

Robin Young: It’s a terrible story. You want to give them an honorary homecoming?

Dean Somers: They could be buried possibly at Arlington, or where ever their families want them buried. It would mean a lot to the families.

Robin Young: Tell us further why? We know the line in the Marines hymn comes fro their action, from the Shore of Tripoli. Others have said they were the original NAVY Seals with this mission they tried to pull off ?

Dean Somers: Yes, just about that, they would do just what the SEALS would do today.

Robin Young: Well, there is a bill passed by the House that requires the DOD to return their remains, that hasn’t yet been taken up by the Senate. But there were times when the US had better relations, in recent memory. Mommar Gaddafi was being brought back into the fold, he gave up his nuclear weapons, but now Libya is a mess. What’s your sense that this can be accomplished?

Dean Somers: I think maybe if Gaddafi is taken out of the country and a new regime comes in, we might get the bodies back. There might be a change in the atmosphere over there.

Robin Young: Are you in touch with other decedents? Longfellow’s descendents? Are you in touch with the other people.

Dean Somers: Yes. I am in touch with the Somers descendents, yes.

Robin Young: And what do they say?

Dean Somers: They want the bodies back, too, absolutely.

Robin Young: Thirteen men were killed, there could be a lot of descendents at this point.

Dean Somers: A lot of them, we don’t know where the descendants are, but Wadsworth and others we do know where they are.

Robin Young: His distant relative, Richard Somers, captain of the USS Intrepid, killed in 1804 while trying to take out the pirates there.

Here are the names of the other Americans who were killed day.

Besides Richard Somers and Henry Wadsworth.

Joseph Israel
James Harris
James Simms
Issac Downs
Thomas Tomline
Hugh McCmormick
Robert Clark
Peter Penner
Thomas Tompline
William Harrison and
Jacob Williams

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