Wednesday, January 11, 2012

AMVETS Commander Supports Repatriation

The Park at Martyrs Square Tripoli (Photo by Nuri Twebti)


"Failure of leadership!"

Soon after his election as commander of America’s most inclusive major veterans service organization, AMVETS National Commander Gary L. Fry met with town leaders in Somers Point, N.J., and learned of the ongoing efforts to repatriate the town’s namesake, Master Commandant Richard Somers, and his 12 fellow sailors lost in 1804 during the First Barbary War.

AMVETS National Cmdr. Gary L. Fry decries failure of Congress, Sen. McCain, to repatriate first Navy combat casualties

Soon after his election as commander of America’s most inclusive major veterans service organization, AMVETS National Commander Gary L. Fry met with town leaders in Somers Point, N.J., and learned of the ongoing efforts to repatriate the town’s namesake, Master Commandant Richard Somers, and his 12 fellow sailors lost in 1804 during the First Barbary War.

The 13 men of the USS Intrepid, commandos and precursors to the modern Navy SEALs, were killed during a daring attempt to destroy the fleet in Tripoli Harbor. The following day, the remains of Somers and his crew were buried in four or five mass graves, which the Somers Point Historical Society has long maintained is an inappropriate final resting place for the Navy’s first combat casualties. U.S. Congressmen Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, agreed, and pushed for an inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) of a provision requiring the Department of Defense to repatriate the Sailors’ remains with stipulations. However, at the eleventh hour, Sen. John McCain changed the final language of the legislation in favor of a continuing review of the issue.

Cmdr. Fry called the setback an unacceptable failure of leadership. “As Americans, we have a fundamental responsibility to all our men and women in uniform to ensure they are properly accounted for,” said Fry. “I salute the Somers Point Historical Society, the Intrepid Project, and Congressmen LoBiondo and Rogers for honoring our Armed Forces’ ethos to never leave a comrade behind. AMVETS will continue to support them in this important fight.”

Fry also echoed the belief of the Somers Point Historical Society and the Intrepid Project, which has spearheaded the repatriation effort, that the recent political upheaval in Libya has created a window of opportunity, albeit a rapidly closing one, to recover the remains of the USS Intrepid Sailors.

“After more than 200 years of remaining vigilant, never have the families of Master Commandant Somers and his crew been so close to reaching a positive resolution in this matter,” said Fry. “Together with other leading veterans' advocates in Washington, D.C., AMVETS will remain committed to ensuring we do not lose the opportunity to bring these valiant warriors home to our shores where they belong.”

A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veteran’s service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military including the National Guard and Reserves. For more information, visit Information about the Healing Heroes program can be found

National Commander - Gary Fry

Gary L.Fry of Sugar Grove, Pa., was elected to serve as AMVETS National Commander for 2011-2012 during the 67th annual AMVETS National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

Fry reviously served as AMVETS First Vice Commander where his responsibilities included membership outreach and representing AMVETS National Headquarters at veterans’ events around the country.

Fry is a life member of AMVETS and served as commander of Sugar Grove, Pa. AMVETS Post No. 50 for nine years, Department of Pennsylvania Commander, served on the National Long Range planning committee and various other committees. Gary is also a former member of the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission and is a former president of the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council. Fry still serves on the advisory board of the Pennsylvania Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home.

Fry served in the United States Army for three years including a tour in Vietnam where he served as a squad leader..

Now a retired electronic instrument technician, Gary has been married to his wife Judy for 41 years, has a son and daughter, and 3 grandsons.

Commander Fry's Pearl Harbor Message


Commander Gary Fry will observe the 70th anniversary of the "day that will live in infamy" in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The following are his remarks.

It is a privilege to be here today to honor the men and women who fought and gave their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Forever entrenched in our minds as “a day that will live in infamy,” the United States was attacked, and the strength of our nation was tested seventy years ago today.

The sky over Oahu was clear and blue that Sunday morning and America awoke in peace. But at 7:55 a.m., this tranquil scene was shattered as Japanese aircraft bombarded the Naval outpost of a dormant Pacific Fleet. Targeting the battleships moored in Pearl Harbor, the enemy planes struck hard and fast. They bombed the Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam.

The attack was over in less than two hours, but the devastation was overwhelming. Twenty-one of more than ninety ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet were damaged or sunk. More than three hundred aircraft were hit or destroyed. But most overwhelming of all was the loss of more than 2,400 lives and the injuries inflicted on 1,200 others.

The sinking of the battleship USS Arizona remains the most recognized symbol of that tragic day. Today, more than 1,100 men are still entombed within her rusting hulk. As an organization born of World War II, AMVETS has made it a point to honor those heroic individuals for their sacrifice. Our efforts to raise the necessary funds to complete the USS Arizona memorial and, later, the wall bearing the names of those aboard who died, testifies to this ongoing commitment.

And while much of the world has yet to fully realize the peace and freedom for which these men gave their lives, we remain determined that they shall not have died in vain. The Japanese struck a savage and treacherous blow at our peace-loving nation on December 7, 1941. The attack triggered a global war of unprecedented proportions and forever changed the course of world history. Our enemies were unaware at the time that their attempts to weaken us brought them only short-term success. Responding to the attack, Americans joined together in an all-out effort to win the war, which we thankfully have not had to repeat since. It was this unbreakable unity, sacrifice, and national resolve that ultimately became our most effective weapons.

On that fateful Sunday afternoon, an editorial appeared on the front page of the Honolulu Star Extra, which foretold the role of our national unity. It stated, “In this crisis, every difference of race, creed and color will be submerged in the one desire and determination to play the part that Americans always play in crisis.”

Today not only marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but also an unhappy yet inevitable milestone for the veterans’ community. Today, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will observe this day in history for the final time as an official organization. Congressionally chartered in 1958 with more than 18,000 members, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association now numbers less than 3,000, and most members are in their 90’s. Because of dwindling numbers, the Association has announced it will be forced to forever close its doors at the end of the month. This serves to remind us all of the fleeting opportunity we have to, honor, celebrate, engage, and learn from this vanishing generation of heroes, our greatest generation. They are national treasures all, and we must make every effort to appreciate these heroes among us.

Finally, I ask you to keep our servicemen and women in your thoughts and prayers throughout this holiday season and beyond. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to a close, it is our duty – not as AMVETS, veterans, or veterans’ advocates – but as Americans, to ensure we provide for the needs of our newest generation of returning war fighters. We must give them every opportunity to pursue their goals and dreams: to further their education, to find meaningful and lasting civilian employment, to receive the care and treatment they need for service-connected injuries and disabilities, and to provide for their own families once they return home. This is our charge, and we will not fail them.

With our nation and her allies challenged by those who wish to do us harm and threaten our very way of life, it is our responsibility to uphold the principles upon which America was founded. We can do our part by supporting those who are being called upon to defend these principles, carrying forth the legacy of heroism demonstrated at Pearl Harbor. As Americans, we are able to choose freedom because of the bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice on this day 70 years ago.

We are proud to honor them. May we never forget their noble sacrifices for generations of Americans who followed. Thank you, and may God bless America.

[Thanks to Fred Vinyard and Mayor Jack Glasser for talking to Commander Fry and to Fred and Sally Hastings for the heads up on this story]

The recently restored Old Protestant Cemetery
The Free Libyan Flag flys over the graves of the American Naval Heroes in Tripoli
(Photo by Nuri Twebti)

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