Tuesday, December 13, 2011
NY1 - Exclusive - Intrepid Project
NY1 Exclusive: Intrepid Project Works To Return Deceased Sailors To U.S.
By: Josh Robin
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The bodies of five New York sailors who were killed when the first USS Intrepid sank back in 1804 may at last be returned to American soil thanks to improved relations between the United States and Libya, but tension between advocates and the Navy could bring things to a halt. NY1’s Josh Robin filed the following report.
The United States didn't send Americans to fight in Libya this time, but they did two centuries ago. Some never came home.
"I only have one hero in my family. I would like to visit his grave," says Dean Somers, a descendent of Captain Richard Somers, who led a crew of 13 men, including five sailors who enlisted in New York City.
In 1804, the Intrepid was loaded with explosives to repel Barbary pirates attacking merchant ships. It blew up, either from an enemy cannon, or an intentionally lit fuse to escape capture.
The sailors' bodies washed ashore. They were fed on by dogs. Most ended up in communal graves long left in disrepair.
"I saw the pictures of the graves and I heard the story of how they were treated, and I'm just not able to sleep at night until these men come home," says Michael Caputo of the Intrepid Project.
The cause has attracted a motley crew that includes Caputo, who ran the campaign of Carl Paladino, the failed GOP candidate for governor.
On the other side has been an unlikely opponent to the move: the Navy itself.
Officials have said they consider the dusty bluff the men's final resting spot, adding that the cemetery is being renovated.
This week, however, Congress expects to force the Navy to begin a nine-month study into the feasibility of bringing the remains home.
Some say that may not be good enough.
"We think we have a window, but we don't know what a future government will look like. We don't know what their relationship will be like with the United States. We don't know if they will be friendly," says New Jersey Representative Frank Lobiondo.
And the Somers family says their demand has always been a U.S. burial.
For years after Somers' death, his sister asked that his body be returned from Tripoli and be reinterred at the family plot in New Jersey. Her wish was unfulfilled at the time of her own death, so she asked that a marker in memory of her brother be placed next to her grave.
"I could come and be here and visit it. It's home for him," says Somers.
The others sailors may never be paired with their descendants, but under the plan, the nation could honor their service with a burial at Arlington National Cemetery.