Monday, April 30, 2012

Common Goals - US DOD & Repatriation

The Old Protestant Cemetery Tripoli Before Restoration 

News for the DIA Community
Issue 35-08 September, 2008
USDAO Tripoli Honors Fallen Sailors
By COL David Jesmer Jr. (Ret.)

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.

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 HarbourSeptember 4, 1804.” Unable to do anything else at the time, Mehan locked the gate to the cemetery to keep out vandals.

                                              The Inside of the Old Protestant Cemetery

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.

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.

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.

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.  

Battle of Tripoli - 1804


The part of the 2012 Defense Authorization Act that refers to the repatriation of Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid is listed under Section 598 and refers to “the proposal to exhume, identify, and relocate the remains of the American sailors.”

Section 598.  calls for the “Evaluation of Issues Affecting Disposition of remains of American Sailors Killed in the Explosion of the Ketch USS INTREPID in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804.”

Section (a) calls for a report to be issued in 9 months, or next September, “(a)  Evaluation required – Not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this act,” but this evaluation is to be conducted by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy.

The Secretary of Defense – Leon Panetta, and the Secretary of the Navy – Raymond Edwin “Ray” Malbus, Jr., the report says, “shall conduct an evaluation of the following issues with respect to the disposition of the remains of American sailors killed in the explosion of the Ketch USS INTREPID in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804:
               i.      The feasibility of recovery of remains based on historical information, factual consideration, costs, and precedential effect.
ii.                   The ability to make identifications of the remains within a two-year period based on conditions and facts that would have to exist for positive scientific identification of the remains.
iii.                  The diplomatic and inter-governmental issues that would have to be addressed in order to provide for exhuming and removing the remains consistent with the sovereignty of the Libyan Government.

Wife of US Ambassador to Libya Mr. Gene Cretz and Military Attache place wreath at the graves of American sailors from the USS Intrepid in Tripoli 

The Common Goals of Military and those seeking Repatriation – By William Kelly
“LTC 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.”  

LTC Robert “Kyle” Carnahan’s hopes, which should also reflect the wishes of the US military, are exactly the same as those who seek the repatriation of the remains of these men – to give them a proper grave, one that Americans can visit to pay their respects and establish a place "where people can learn about the United States’ first military conflict abroad."    

Somers Point, New Jersey took the lead in the repatriation effort, first because the repatriation of the remains of Richard Somers has always been sought by the Somers family, but also because the city officials and business leaders recognized that the historic grave of their native son would be an appropriate tourist attraction that would compliment the small town’s other attractions – the bay, boating, fishing, eating and dining. Indeed the mayor wants to bring in a working schooner to be called the Intrepid as a way of promoting the area’s nautical heritage as a tourist attraction.  

Of course it would be much easier for Americans to pay their respects at Somers’ grave if he was buried in Somers Point rather than in Tripoli, but where ever he is, Carnahan adequately expresses everyone’s desire to get people “to learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad,” as the story of fighting pirates and tyrants harmoniously resonates with the history that is being made in the news today.

Carnahan’s desire to have the Old Protestant Cemetery restored and made a place where Americans can visit to pay their respects and learn about the history has been achieved, as the cemetery has been beautifully restored, and as reflected in the book “Secrets of Old Protestant Cemetery,” each of the graves has been studied and documented for posterity.

And the visit there by many Americans over the recent years, including the Sec. of Defense Panetta, has called attention to its unique and varied history, so that mission has also been accomplished.

Those seeking the repatriation of the remains of these men still have a moral and legal standing however, which rests on the military’s policy of having the family decide whether the remains of their kin killed in combat abroad should be buried where they fell or repatriated home.

This policy however, is based on the assumption that the remains can be positively identified, which in this case, can only be applied to the officers – Richard Somers, Henry Wadsworth and Joseph Israel.

Since the families of Somers and Wadsworth have formerly requested the return of the remains of their kin, and the Jewish War Veterans Association has supported the efforts for repatriation of Lt. Israel, the military has an obligation to at least make an attempt to positively identify the remains of the officers, if they can.

And they can, if the remains are within the crypts of the cemetery, as some historians believe, or located in another grave nearby that can be located through a study of old charts, maps and aerial and satellite photographs.

The disruption and removal of human remains from graves and crypts appears to be a common practice in Libya, as more than half of the graves at Old Protestant Cemetery have been relocated elsewhere and the graves of Italians and British military have been intentionally desecrated.

Libyan authorities apologise after British war graves desecrated in Benghazi |

And even though the cemetery is walled and gated, the unstable nature of civil life since the recent revolution has endangered all graves, as followers of some radical Islam sects have dug up the hundred year old graves of some Sufi saints in Mosques and disappeared into the desert with them. In addition, graves at the Italian cemetery have been desecrated and destroyed and the graves stones of British war dead have knocked over in Benghazi, as seen in a video widely distributed over the internet. While Libyans don't dislike Americans as much as they do other nationalities, some Libyans do despise Americans and the NATO intervention during the revolution, and could threaten the graves of American heroes if they knew they were there. 

Which makes it imperative that the positive identification of the Intrepid officers and any other men of the Intrepid be undertaken as soon as possible because they are still in danger.

As part of the current military evaluation, the crypts at the Old Protestant Cemetery should be properly examined by forensic pathologists, the number of remains should be determined, DNA samples taken from each, and a thorough photo and film documentation of what’s there should be undertaken.

If the remains of all thirteen men are not there, an attempt should be made to locate the original grave site by a study of the maps, charts, aerial and satellite photos, and that site should be identified and properly excavated.

If the DNA tests can be matched for the remains of Somers, Wadsworth and Israel, their remains can then be positively identified and repatriated, and if the other ten men can be identified as being those of the Intrepid, the military should repatriate them as well, since their mission in Tripoli has now been accomplished.

The feasibility of repatriation of these men depends on properly identifying the contents of the cemetery crypts and locating the original grave site, both tasks that should be undertaken as part of the evaluation ordered by the Joint House/Senate Armed Services Committee Conference report and 2012 Defense Authorization Act before October, 2012.

Secretary of Defense Honors Tripoli Heroes at Old Protestant Cemetery - 2012 

                                  Old Protestant Cemetery Tripoli Since Restoration - 2012 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Old Protestant Cemetery Tripoli


(p. 352 Secrets)

Monday, April 2, 2012

SECRETS OF OLD PROTESTANT CEMETERY (2008) Secrets of Old Protestant Cemetery (2008, Libsc)) may hold the key to unlocking the riddles of the remains of Richard Somers and the men of the USS Intrepid. Written in Arabic, with many photos, diagrams, maps and charts, a large part of Secrets is dedicated to the American war, the battles at Tripoli and the graves of the men of the Intrepid, though most of the book concerns research into the identity and mainly European background of the fifty or so other persons buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery.

An old, square brick and cement walled compound allegedly built by the British in 1830 around the already existing graves, reported to be those of American sailors killed in battle at the turn of the previous century, Old Protestant Cemetery has been completely restored since this book was published in 2008, and is now apparently being developed as a tourist attraction.

As this book is written in Arabic, and therefore reads from right to left, and what would normally be back to front, there is a very handy 13 page index in English, which directs to the necessary passages we are interested in.

Since I can’t read Arabic and must have them translated, I did make a quick perusal of the book and found a few old black and white photos that I had not seen before, as well as some pertinent maps and charts. The photos are all black and white and not very clear.

One photo of a marker on the wall is inscribed:


Unfortunately, most of the footnotes and references are to internet web sites, many no longer working, and it does not appear, as previously reported, that this is a complete report.

As the two Americans reported in the 1970s that one of the graves was inscribed as containing a victim of the "assassins," and there is no reference to the assassins in this book, it cannot be complelte. But it does have more information, maps and charts than compiled anywhere else in one place, it is the authorative study of the cemetery from the Libyan perspective.

This is the relevant references in the English index that I will have translated and report on first.

[And Many Thanks to Nuri for sending me this fabulous book]

Wheelus Field Officers Wives Club 115 USNI – 119, 140, 287
USNI Proccedings – 287
USS Intrepid 347, 352
USS Spokane 300 Somers – 262, 352, 355, 357, 663
Somers Point – 357
Somers 357
Spokane 297, 300, 343
Spokane cl 120, 297
Star Trek 283, 662
Stephen Decatur 259
Stewart 80, 265, 425, 444, 446
Richard Somers 262, 352, 355, 325
Orray Jr. 558
Orray Taft – 295
Peleg Wadsworth 325, 361
Peter Leslie 187
Peter Penner 264, 355
Philadelphia 255, 347
Midshipman 357
Mustapha 119, 120, 123, 140, 259, 265, 268, 287, 301, 306, 308, 364, 558
Naval Institute 119, 140, 287
Navy Yard 262, 278
Joseph Israel 262, 325
Karamanli 53
Intrepid 258, 300, 327, 352, 660
James Simms 263, 355
Henry Wadsworth Longfello 363
Cowdery 131, 268, 347
Edward Preble 258, 262
Burchis 119, 120, 123, 140, 259, 265, 268, 287, 301,306, 308, 364, 558
Barry 357
Barry 58
American Sailor 347
American Sailors 352
A nest of Corsairs 429, 441

Map of the interior of the Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli showing each grave crypt.