American Legion Video
By Marty Callaghan
Somers Point, N.J. Mayor Jack Glasser: Richard Somers and the crew of the Intrepid are lying in a hostile country, a hostile land for many years, and I can’t understand why they are still there in Libya. For the life of me I can not understand why we left them there for 206 years - in Libya. I just can’t understand it. We had the country at one time, why didn’t we just bring them back? In this town, not only I, but there are so many people in this town with a passion to bring them home. It’s time to bring them home. That’s my saying - it’s time to bring them home.
We have Congressman Mike Rogers from the great state of Michigan, and our own Frank LoBiondo, has been championing this cause in Congress for many years. They have introduced bill 1497 to bring the crew of the Intrepid home. It’s time that our government get on board with this, using a Navy term, to get on board with this, and stand behind this and bring them home.
Walt Gregory: I’ve heard all the arguments. I’ve heard the argument that they don’t bring the bodies out of the Arizona. That is a ship that was sunk, and that is their grave, that is an honored grave. They say that they don’t bring the guys home from World War I from Flanders Field. But that is American territory. American flags fly over it. There’s a big difference between that and what we have. What we have is thirteen of our sailors buried in a foreign country, and it’s a hostile country. And we don’t know if they will stay there forever, we don’t know if we are going to get them soon, but we’re trying, we are trying to bring them home as best we can.
John Morsa – By bringing Richard Somers back, by bringing him and his crew back, their stories can be better told, and not just told, but understood, and the lessons that they have are important. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance we should bring them and every service man home to a final resting place.
Author, historian William Kelly: I think it is important that we bring Richard Somers home not only because of the Somers family who want it, but for the state of New Jersey and for America. I think it’s important that we call attention to these men, though because this is 200 years old the military seems to be balking about it, but there is no difference between what those men were fighting for then and what we fight for today.
Bill Kelly: Reports came in from Europe saying that American merchant ships were being taken by Barbary pirates and their crews were being enslaved, which they were. This instigated a backlash against the pirates and the motive to go over there and fight them. They asked for tribute in order to stop pirating American ships, but the American people took up the motto, “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”
John Morsa: We paid the tribute (at first). But when there was a change in power in Tripoli they wanted more, and the price of the protection money went up. It’s not as feasible, it’s not as cost effective, it was actually more cost effective to pay the tribute than to maintain a Navy and send it half way around the world. It maybe made more political sense to stand up and say we weren’t going to stand for this any longer, so that President Jefferson sent over the armed gunboats.
Bill Kelly: Unfortunately one of the mishaps in that war was the capture of the USS Philadelphia, a large frigate – a big battleship that ran around while chasing a pirate ship into Tripoli harbor. 300 men from the Philadelphia were held captive in the dungeons of the old castle fort, which is still there. Their Captain was Captain Bainbridge, the senior officer on the Philadelphia.
John Morsa; Somers took his first ship the Nautilus out of Baltimore, sailed to the Mediterranean to meet up with Decatur who had his own ship, as well as Edward Preble, who was commanding the entire fleet from the USS Constitution, and they rescued the men from Philadelphia, and put down the Barbary Pirates.
Bill Kelly: Now that the enemy had our biggest ship, Stephen Decatur took the captured pirate ship USS Intrepid, snuck into Tripoli harbor under cover of darkness, and with his crew, recaptured the Philadelphia and sunk it right there in the harbor. It was one of the first covert operations the US Navy undertook, and they were sort of like the Navy SEALS of their era. Because Somers and Decatur were always in competition with each other, Somers wanted to equal Decatur’s deed, and volunteered to sail the Intrepid back into Tripoli harbor laden as a fire ship, with a crew of twelve men who were supposed to light a fuse and escape in rowboats. But the ship exploded before it could reach the enemy fleet, and all thirteen men were killed. Their bodies washed ashore the next day and Captain Bainbridge convinced the Bashaw of Tripoli to allow them to recover their remains and bury them outside the castle wall.
Mayor John Glasser: I can’t help but go back to the theme of the heroism these gentlemen displayed, and they were very young at the time. I don’t think Somers was out of his twenties, and to do this heroic deed. Then you think of the men who are serving today who are of that age and go into harms way defending this country.
John Morsa: With increased funding from Congress the Navy and Marine Corps were sent over to get revenge against the Barbary Pirates.
Bill Kelly: Captain Bainbridge had his chief surgeon Dr. Cowdery, Dr. Jonathan Cowdery identified the three officers from their uniforms and certain characteristics about them, and he separated them from the other men and they were buried in two graves outside the castle walls. And that’s where they remained. Eventually Decatur and the others would defeat the pirates and free the prisoners, but Somers and his men were left buried there.
In 1850s James Fennimore Cooper wrote a history of the Navy and a biography of Somers and suggested that one day an American ship should put into Tripoli harbor, recover the remains of these men and bring them back. The Somers family has always thought the remains of Somers would be returned. The sister of Richard Somers, Sarah built a monument in Somers Point, which she thought would be the resting place for her brother and so people would remember that he was still in Tripoli.
Then the American Legion came into the picture in May 1977 when American Legion magazine published an article by a women who was walking around Tripoli and accidentally stumbled upon the graves at the cemetery site. She wrote an article about it in the magazine that called attention to the fact that these men were still there. That led to a movement to attempt to return Richard Somers and the Intrepid crew.
Mayor Jack Glasser: The fact that we left Somers and his crew there this long is unconscionable. I can’t believe it, but that’s what fills me with passion to keep pushing and to do whatever I can as mayor of this great town to bring them home.
Walt Gregory: We want to bring them home to this town. That decision is fully up to the families, but we want to get these people – these heroes – and they are definitely heroes, and we want to get them out of the ground in Libya and put them in a place where they can be honored. Not at a place where at any minute they can throw them into the water if they decided they hate America. Where Richard Somers is, when Gadhafi stands on his pulpit and preaches to the people, and the crowds yell, they are standing in Green Square which is where Richard Somers is buried. They could be standing on his grave when they celebrate. Richard Somers had everything, and he sacrificed everything. His family owned Atlantic County, and he lost everything, he sacrificed everything for this country, and I think it is a shame, and it’s a big dishonor to the state and to the country, that he is not home.
Barry Searle of the American Legion: Any service member who dies for their country at any time, in any place, in any era, for any reason, has the right to come home. The country we believe, has a duty and obligation to its service members who have sworn to give their lives to the country, to do everything they can to bring them home, in particularly when it is a case where there are family members who want to bring remains home, and there is a request to do that. There is a basic duty there that the country needs to fulfill. A service member takes the obligation when they raise their hand to defend the constitution at all costs, and there is an obligation on the part of the country to bring them home and take care of them.
Mayor Jack Glasser: I am very proud, honored and thankful to the American Legion for supporting this effort. We need your help. We need every legionnaire’s help to contact their elected officials in Congress to support and sponsor Bill HR 1497– which will have the Department of Defense bring home the remains of Richard Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid.
Bill Kelly: There has always been a determination to bring these men home, and we think that now is the opportunity to do it. And just as the American Legion article in 1977 instigated that whole effort back then, we hope that you can help instigate the interest to bring them home today.
Walt Gregory: I’ve been to Washington D.C. to see politicians about this; I’ve written letters to private citizens, I’ve written letters to everybody about this thing. And in my heart I think for the fist time that I think we are moving ahead now because the American Legion is involved in this. Because of the strengths of their different posts, they can get their Congressmen interested and we really have a chance to bring them home. We were just a voice in the wilderness, but when the American Legion takes it on its plate that this a just cause then, I think we stand a really good chance of winning this battle.
Mayor Jack Glasser: We’ve been at it for so long that I can’t understand why. There is so much going on there now, but once the political situation stabilizes, I would hope that our government firmly stands behind this initiative and puts everything into place. And we have the resources, because we have done it in other countries, from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. We have the resources to do this, so let’s put these resources to this, and then bring them home.