Thursday, January 19, 2012
Old Protestant Cemetery a Tourist Attraction
LTC Robert “Kyle” "Carnahan hopes that the cemetery will one day become a tourist location in Tripoli for Americans wishing to pay their respects, and a place where they can learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad."
News for the DIA Community
(U) USDAO Tripoli Honors Fallen Sailors
By COL David Jesmer Jr. (Ret.)
(U) When LTC Robert “Kyle” Carnahan arrived in Tripoli, Libya, in March 2006, he had no way of knowing that he would be handed an opportunity to honor U.S. military heroes for their sacrifices on the shores of Tripoli two centuries earlier.
(U) The Department of State opened a liaison office in 2004 shortly after diplomatic relations were re-established with Libya. Newly hired Libyan guards told the regional security officer Dan Mehan about a run-down cemetery known locally as the “American Cemetery.” Curious, Mehan visited the site and found an overgrown cemetery in disrepair containing among the graves a tombstone claiming to hold the remains of “an American sailor who gave his life in the explosion of the United States Ship Intrepid in Tripoli Harbour, September 4, 1804.” Unable to do anything else at the time, Mehan locked the gate to the cemetery to keep out vandals.
(U) Shortly after Carnahan arrived as the new defense attaché, Mehan showed him the site. Carnahan promptly arranged to meet with the Libyan chairman of the Department of Archaeology Dr. Giuma Anag and hoped to obtain permission to clean the site and gain official control of the cemetery for the U.S. government. Anag confirmed that five graves contained the remains of five to nine American sailors who had washed ashore following the premature explosion of the USS Intrepid in theTripoli harbor during the First Barbary War in 1804.
(U) Anag explained that the remains were disinterred during the late 19th century by Italian workers who were building a coastal road. The Italians reburied the remains in a local Protestant cemetery instead of the Italian Catholic cemetery, presuming that the American sailors from that period were likely Protestant. Although there are five marked graves, there is confusion about the exact number of Americans who were buried there as early reports claim that the graves contain more than one set of remains.
(U) Carnahan and Operations Coordinator CWO Ernest Brown cleaned up the cemetery and arranged for a Memorial Day ceremony in 2006, and again in 2007, to honor the Americans. Carnahan continued to research the history of the graves and has requested support from the Marine Corps and Navy. The Marine Corps provided a report from 1955 that concluded the remains were not of Marines, though several Marines died during the First Barbary War. The report also indicated that U.S. service members stationed at nearby Wheelus Air Force Base, which closed following Muammar Gadaffi’s coup in 1969, used to care for the cemetery, and delegations from U.S. ships visits routinely paid their respects. This lead to the conclusion that the neglect had occurred only during the past four decades.
(U) A U.S. Naval Forces Europe delegation plans to conduct a survey of the cemetery and discuss with Anag how best to preserve the site. One wall is slowly crumbling from erosion despite the efforts of the U.S. Defense Attache Office. Carnahan hopes that the cemetery will one day become a tourist location in Tripoli for Americans wishing to pay their respects, and a place where they can learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad.