Sunday, September 30, 2012

Return Them Home Now

                           Violence in Libya Renews Call for Repatriation of Somers from Tripoli

By William Kelly

The September 11th assassination of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans has added a new urgency to the repatriation of the remains of Richard Somers and the men of the U.S.S. Intrepid from Tripoli.

“The senseless murder of Ambassador Stevens is a tragic loss for our nation,” said Sally Hastings, president of the Somers Point Historical Socity. “It also proves that neither the Navy nor the State Department can ensure the safety of American interests in Libya. It is vital that we recover the remains of the 13 heroes that died on the Intrepid and return them to the United States where they can finally receive the honors they deserve.”

Unlike other seemingly spontaneous protests at American embassies around the world, in response to the release of a movie insulting to Islamsts, the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi appears to have been planned in advance and carried out by hundreds of heavily armed militants.

Shortly after the February 17th Revolution in Libya began, Chris Stevens was sent to Benghazi to evaluate the revolutionaries, determine who they were, what they were fighting for and why. His reports played a major role in the change in US policy of backing foreign dictators who support American economic, anti-Communist and counter-terrorist policies. The American support for the revolutionaries, along with the imposition of a NATO enforced no-fly zone over Libya, contributed greatly to the success of the revolution over the four decades long rule of Dictator Mommar Gadhafi. 

Stevens was respected and trusted by the many diverse elements of Libyan society, and was appointed ambassador in March, 2012. On Memorial Day, Stevens led the American delegation in a ceremony at the graves of the men of the USS Intrepid at Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli.

[See Photo]

Richard Somers commanded the captured pirate ship rechristened USS Intrepid on one of the first special operation raids in US Naval history on the night of September 4, 1804, intending to destroy the anchored enemy fleet in Tripoli harbor. The ship exploded before it could reach its destination and the bodies of the men were recovered on the shore and buried nearby. 

The Somers’ family, beginning with his sister Sarah, has always sought the return of the remains of Richard from Tripoli, and they have been joined by the family of Lt. Henry Wadsworth, Somers’ second in command and uncle of Longfellow the famed New England poet. With the backing of the citizens of Somers Point, and the endorsement of the New Jersey State Legislature, the House of Representatives and Veterans groups like the American Legion, VFW and Am Vets, an amendment to repatriate the remains was attached to the 2012 Defense Authorization Act. But that amendment was withdrawn by Sen. John McCain at the request of the Navy. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R. NJ 2nd), a strong supporter of repatriation, and whose district includes Somers Point, reinserted an order to have the military study the feasibility of repatriation, a report that is due in October.

Regardless of what that study concludes, those seeking repatriation have stepped up their efforts and consider this an emergency situation.

“If we don’t get them out now, while we can, who knows what will happen to them? If the Islamic extremists get to them first, we will never get them back,” said Walt Gregory, who is helping to raise money to build a monument to Somers that they hope, will also be a gravestone if his remains are returned.

Of the many diverse groups in Libya, the radical Islamics known as Salafists are orthodox Muslims who believe in a strict interpretation of the Koran, and are often at violent odds with other Islamic sects, especially the Sufis, who sing, dance and revere their honored Sufi saints. Shortly after the ouster of Gadhafi, some Sal fists intimidated a Libyan Jew who was trying to restore an ancient and abandoned Tripoli Synagogue. They also attacked some Sufi mosques, excavated the graves and made off with the remains of some Sufi saints that had been buried in the floor of the mosque for over a hundred years.

More recently some Salafists bulldozed a Sufi mosque in Tripoli, completely pulverizing it, without any objections from the ruling interim government, who consider it a religious affair.

These same Salafists Moslems are leading the protests against American embassies and businesses in the Middle East and Asia, and it is believed by intelligence analysts that these protests were used as a cover for the attack on the US consulates in Benghazi and Tripoli by Al Qada and Taliban forces. These Taliban, who practice a strict form of Salafist Islam, were responsible for the destruction of two centuries old Budda statutes in Afghanistan, because they insulted their Islamic sensibilities, and desecrated the graves of British soldiers who died during World War II and are buried in Libya.

These same radical Islamists would certainly attack, desecrate and remove the remains of the American naval heroes buried in Tripoli if they knew where they were, as the graves are clearly marked as Americans from the USS Intrepid.
Hastings also said she fears the cemetery in which the American remains lie could suffer the same type of desecration as the Commonwealth Cemetery near Tobruk, Libya. A mob destroyed numerous graves of soldiers who died in battle in World War II and ripped up Australian, British and New Zealand flags when it attacked the cemetery earlier this year.
“It is of the utmost importance that we don’t allow the graves of our sailors and ancestors to suffer the fate of those brave Australian soldiers,” Hastings said. “It is past the time for own government not only to recognize the heroic sacrifice of the crew of the first USS Intrepid but to finally heed the calls of the descendants of these men for their return.”

The part of the 2012 Defense Authorization Act that refers to the repatriation of Somers and the men of the Intrepid refers to “the proposal to exhume, identify, and relocate the remains of the American sailors.” It concerns 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,” and requires a report to be conducted by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy and issued by October.

The Secretary of Defense – Leon Panetta, and the Secretary of the Navy – Raymond Edwin “Ray” Malbus, Jr., “shall conduct an evaluation of the following issues: The feasibility of recovery of remains based on historical information, factual consideration, costs, and precedential effect; 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; and 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.”

“We were told that the cemetery where they are buried has a wall around it and is safe and secure,” said Walt Gregory, “but if they can kill the US Ambassador then we know that they are not safe and secure.”

“It’s our concern that they are buried in a very volatile place in the world,” said Mayor Glasser. “Libya is a very dangerous place at the moment, and not friendly to Americans. We’ll not give up until they are back home safe.”

Donations for the Somers Monument can be made to the Somers Point Historical Society and sent to P.O. Box 517, Somers Point, N.J. 08244 or at their web site: .
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