HERE LIES AN AMERICAN SAILOR WHO GAVE HIS LIFE IN THE EXPLOSION OF THE UNITED STATES SHIP INTREPID IN TRIPOLI HAROBR SEPTEMBER 4, 1804
With the current DOD evaluation of the feasibility of repatriation of the remains of the Intrepid crew from Libya Chris Dickon gives a summary of the history of American war dead buried abroad, and notes that when circumstances allowed, what the military has done.
The current military study should include an inspection of the Intrepid graves at Old Protestant Cemetery and DNA testing to see if any of the remains can be positively identified.
The circumstances now permit such an inspection and testing and they should be conducted, as the window of opportunity might not last.
WHEN CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW
From Chris Dickon, author of “Foreign Burial of American War Dead” (MacFadden, 20111)
Consideration of what to do about the graves of Richard Somers et al in
at a time
when there may be a window of opportunity to return the remains to the Tripoli can’t easily be put into a historical
Though official policy of the right of return for the bodies of war dead didn’t reach full force until World War I, all known burials abroad prior to that time have ultimately received more attention and resolution than have Somers and his crew. The shortcoming has been a matter of circumstance rather than policy, and it may be that circumstance for the
dead has changed for the time being. Tripoli
The crew of the Intrepid were the first named burials abroad of American war dead in the country’s history. Though the remains of perhaps thousands of Americans killed in the Revolutionary War were left in the marshes of the port cities and other locations in
none could be identified and found today. After the Barbary Wars, in which the Intrepid
crew was buried in England ,
it was the War of 1812 that left American dead buried abroad. It can be said
that, unlike Somers et al, by the end of the 20th century all of
them have been accounted for and memorialized to the fullest extent possible.
Joining the list of Libya ’s
most honored naval heroes was William Allen, commander of the USS Argus,
killed by the British in 1813, but buried by the British, along with his
midshipman Richard Delphy, with great honors in a America
churchyard. The location of the graves in Plymouth
was lost sometime in the mid 19th century, but their headstones have
been preserved in the outer wall of an historic Plymouth
building. They have been honored in ceremonies held in common by American and
British interests since the time of their deaths, and a bicentennial
celebration will take place at Plymouth in St. Andrews
on Plymouth June 5, 2013 with the
attendance of officials, historians and military of both nations.
In that same time frame, 275 American prisoners of the War of 1812 will be honored at the site of their common grave at Dartmoor Prison near
. That event will also
be just one in the continuing attention paid to the Plymouth Dartmoor
men by interests on both sides of the Atlantic since the
last half of the 20th century. In addition, 185 American dead of the
War of 1812 buried in will be honored as they have since the
rediscovery of their common burial ground late in the 20th century.
They have been celebrated with the support of the city of Halifax, American,
Canadian and British military interests and a memorial including the names of
each placed by the US Veteran’s Administration. Among those initially buried in
Scotia during the War of 1812 was
another historic figure in American naval history, James Lawrence. Precedent
was set when, unlike that of Richard Somers, his body (and that of his
Lieutenant A.C. Ludlow) was exhumed in Halifax
when circumstances allowed and returned to the Halifax
where it now rests in Trinity Churchyard in US .
Another precedent of the movement of a mass burial of War of 1812 dead from a
foreign land took place in 1988 when 28 American dead found at Manhattan
were ceremoniously moved to a Fort
Erie, Ontario, Canada in upstate National
Cemetery . New
Other known and named naval burials abroad before the official policy of return was implemented are those of approximately 25 crew of various naval ships in a cemetery at Port Mahon, Spain (effectively abandoned by the US Navy and now under the care of American interest groups and the Spanish Army). Two named crew-members of the USS Sabine are still buried in
All of these were non-combat deaths, and there are no known families who might
want to reclaim these bodies in the present day. Nicaragua
It can probably be said that, with the exception of the 27 non-combat dead immediately above, everything that could be done to honor, return, memorialize and take care of the graves of known war dead buried abroad has been done, and will continue to be done in the future. But the full potential of what can be done in relation to
first naval heroes buried abroad, Richard Somers et al, may not yet have been
Circumstance may have been a key factor in that deficit, but in the case of the others when circumstances have allowed an optimization of their return to American memory or soil the advantage has been taken and well-used.
Another important precedent related to Richard Somers is that of the retrieval from
the body of John Paul Jones by president Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. It took
several years to accomplish, but the event served to enhance the argument for a
US Navy, and to celebrate the relationship between the Paris and United
at important junctures in each of their histories. France