Wednesday, November 28, 2012



The H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine, disappeared off the waters of Charleston, S.C., on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the USS Housatonic. It was recovered over hundred years later, and the remains were positively identified and reburied at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina on April 17, 2004.

THE HUNLEY crew was composed of Lieutenant George E. Dixon (Commander), Frank Collins, Joseph F. Ridgaway, James A. Wicks, Arnold Becker, Corporal C. F. Carlsen, C. Lumpkin, and Augstus Miller.

Apart from the commander of the submarine, Lieutenant George E. Dixon, the identities of the volunteer crewmen of the Hunley had long remained a mystery. Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist working for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, examined the remains and determined that four of the men were American born, while the four others were European born, based on the chemical signatures left on the men's teeth and bones by the predominant components of their diet.

Four of the men had eaten plenty of maize, an American diet, while the remainder ate mostly wheat and rye, a mainly European one. By examining Civil War records and conducting DNA testing with possible relatives, forensic genealogist Linda Abrams was able to identify the remains of Dixon and the three other Americans: Frank G. Collins of Fredericksburg, Va., Joseph Ridgaway, and James A. Wicks. Identifying the European crewmen has been more problematic, but was apparently solved in late 2004. The position of the remains indicated that the men died at their stations and were not trying to escape from the sinking submarine.

On April 17, 2004 the remains of the crew were laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. Tens of thousands of people attended including some 6,000 reenactors and 4,000 civilians wearing period clothing. Color guards from all five branches of the U.S. armed forces—wearing modern uniforms—were also in the procession. Even though only two of the crew were from Confederate States all were buried with full Confederate honors including being buried with a version of the Confederate national flag.

Another surprise occurred in 2002, when a researcher examining the area close to Lieutenant Dixon found a misshapen $20 gold piece, minted in 1860, with the inscription "Shiloh April 6, 1862 My life Preserver G. E. D." and a forensic anthropologist found a healed injury to Lt. Dixon's hip bone. The findings matched a legend, passed down in the family, that Dixon's sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, had given him the coin to protect him. Dixon had the coin with him at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded in the thigh on April 6, 1862. The bullet struck the coin in his pocket, saving his leg and possibly his life. He had the gold coin engraved and carried it as a lucky charm.

From - Scientists Study The Last Men Who Served On The H.L. Hunley
By Nancy Jennis Olds April 2004

Several teeth, packed in a small narrow box surrounded in foam material, were laid in a neat row. Gold fillings gleamed like tiny percussion caps on the molars and an incisor. One filling was cast in a silver amalgam material.

This was not a dental office. It was Dr. Doug Owsley's office at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. We were peering at the teeth of Lt. George E. Dixon. He was commander of the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine that disappeared off the waters of Charleston, S.C., on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the USS Housatonic.

Owsley, the head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, worked with a team of scientists, including Department of the Army forensic genealogist Linda Abrams and medical examiner Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs, the chief medical examiner for the state of Alabama and a former resident of Charleston.

Eight men were aboard the Hunley when it sank for the third and final time. Five of the crew drowned on Aug. 29, 1863, and all eight crew, including the sub's namesake and benefactor, Horace Lawson Hunley, were lost when the Hunley went down again on Oct. 15, 1863. Both times the Hunley was salvaged. After the third sinking it took 136 years before the sub was raised.

The information that Owsley and Abrams share about the third crew provides a fascinating look at the lives of these courageous men who crewed the first submarine to successfully attack and sink an enemy ship.

Every available space in Dr. Owsley's cramped offices is filled with cases of skulls and bones gathered over the years for research. In the midst of this vast collection Owsley moves around quickly. He is an amicable host who is constantly asked to lend his expertise when a skeleton is found. At the moment he is analyzing two young female skeletons discovered after wild animals had scattered the bones.

He was asked to examine the remains found in the sediment that filled the Hunley. The skeletons were well preserved, allowing Owsley a rare opportunity to thoroughly analyze the remains and provide some details about the crew.

Each set of remains, and any artifacts discovered near them, was meticulously cataloged. Owsley shared his notes on two of the crew, BB and AA.

The youngest member of the crew, identified by Dr. Owsley as BB because of his position inside the submarine, was a Caucasian male whose bone age was from 19 to 22 years and whose femur histology (tissue structure of the thighbone) was recorded to be 21.8 years. He was also the shortest crewmember. According to Owsley's findings, "He would have been the least cramped and had the greatest ease of movement within the submarine".

The young man's vertebrae showed some wear, a "strain induced deterioration of joint surfaces." Tobacco staining on the teeth indicated that he might have smoked cigars and chewed tobacco. No pipe facets that were related to pipe smoking were evident on the teeth. Further study of the skeletal remains showed the kind of bone growth and fusing of bone that confirmed his age.

The remains discovered in the AA section of the Hunley belonged to a Caucasian male whose bone age was between 24 to 25 years. The femur histology was 28 years. Dr. Owsley's notes reference the "medial epiphyses [ossification] of the clavicles [collarbone] are in the final stage of union and the hyoid [complex of bones at the base of the tongue] is intact with the wings fused to the body".

Owsley found evidence that AA had health problems. According to his records, the "nasal septum is markedly deviated to the right side. This degree of deformity would have impaired airflow through the right half of the nasal chamber."

This man's teeth were stained slightly from tobacco and there are no indications of pipe smoking. He had cavities and abscesses. Teeth near the abscesses were probably extracted. Six lower jaw teeth had a total of eight cavities.AA had five gold fillings and one filling made from a silver amalgam. The teeth had file marks in the enamel where the fillings were embedded. Different techniques in the manufacture and placement of the fillings could signify that more than one dentist repaired the teeth.

Upon further examination of the remains, Dr. Owsley discovered an injury that revealed the identity of the victim. Owsley's notes say: "This injury was caused by a gunshot wound to the upper thigh, which was primarily a soft tissue injury that caused only superficial damage to the bone. The bone did not fracture and there is no evidence of a serious infection."

A radiograph of the proximal half of the left femur revealed "lead spatter, small metallic particles." They were lead from a bullet and gold from a coin.

AA was Lt. George E. Dixon, of Co. E, 21st Alabama Volunteers, who had volunteered to command the H.L. Hunley. He had been wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. The location, date, his initials and the words, "My life preserver," were engraved on the $20 gold piece that deflected the bullet. He carried the coin with him and it was found in the Hunley sediment.

Linda Abrams identifies POW-MIA remains from the overseas recovery of casualties of World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and subsequent battles for all branches of the military. About three years ago, Dr. Robert Neyland, project manager for the recovery and excavation of the Hunley, invited Abrams to identify the remains of the Hunley's crew through researching military records and by analyzing the DNA.

Neyland was familiar with the POW-MIA office of the Pentagon. He needed someone with Abrams' solid track record. She has worked with more than 800 cases over 14 years and has identified all the remains.

Abrams says she decided to accept the challenge although she was unfamiliar with Confederate Civil War history. She wanted to approach this research in a way no one had done before.

She compared the investigation of the crews' remains and records to the investigation of a crime scene. Crime scenes are contained and evaluated before evidence can be tampered with. Witnesses are interviewed immediately after the incident before they can be influenced by media reports.

When Abrams began to research the Hunley crew, she found that the trail of information had been affected by preconceived theories that were not substantiated by hard evidence. Her research with the National Archives on Confederate military records was based on 3 by 5-inch index cards, all that was left of the original records which had been destroyed.

Full names were missing, places of enlistment weren't listed, although some military transfers were inscribed. It was incomplete information at best. Abrams went through 120 Confederate ship rosters. She spent hours searching for existing records obtained from various archives, probate courts, funeral homes and libraries throughout the country.

She says she encountered staffers at some institutions who were woefully ignorant about the Hunley crew's significance and were reluctant to give their support. She also found others who couldn't do enough for her. Abrams became acquainted with crew descendents who were unaware of their ancestor's place in history and were grateful to learn about it.

Historians were not entirely sure who the last crewmembers aboard the Hunley were.

Obtaining permission from families whose ancestors probably served aboard the Hunley to exhume a known relative's grave takes patience and persistence. Also, it is very vital that any DNA extracted this way must come from the maternal line of the family to be considered reliable.

The crew of the Hunley was comprised of soldiers and sailors who volunteered for the mission. Some of the crew was from Europe. At least two of the men were nearly or over 40 years old.

One was identified as James A. Wicks, married with two daughters. He had deserted the U.S. Navy by jumping ship from the USS Congress and swimming to shore. Shortly afterward, he enlisted in the Confederate Navy in Richmond.

An artilleryman, J.F. Carlsen, 20 to 23 years old and European, possibly Scandinavian, enlisted with Co. A, Light Artillery South Carolina Volunteers, also known as the German Artillery, before he volunteered to become the very last crewmember aboard the Hunley before its fateful voyage.

The man in charge, Lt. George E. Dixon, had been a riverboat engineer on the Mississippi. He had enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private and rose through the ranks quickly.

Abrams found records of two male friends of Dixon who had named their sons George. Dixon was described as handsome, "quite the fellow" from some sources. According to Abrams, "Dixon had the right stuff." She hopes to find more information on him. "He must have been an exceptional person," she says.

Abrams admits that the research and analysis required to identify the Hunley's last crew is more daunting than her work identifying the remains of contemporary POW-MIAs. She has faced their skulls almost pleading for them to "talk to me!"

Although the eight men will be laid to rest after 136 years submerged in the H.L. Hunley, the work in uncovering the secrets of their life and death will continue.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Urgency on U.S. Remains in Libya

                                              Ambassador Stevens At the Tripoli Graves

After Ambassador Stevens' death, more urgency on U.S. remains in Libya
Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 5:51 AM

In Memorial Day ceremonies, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, stood silently next to the graves of American sailors in a tiny walled cemetery overlooking Tripoli harbor.

Flowers and small U.S. flags decorated aboveground stone crypts where the seamen were buried in the shade of olive trees.

More than 200 years ago, Navy Master Commandant Richard Somers and a dozen volunteer crewmen sailed an explosives-laden Intrepid toward anchored pirate ships in the harbor.

The Intrepid blew up before the mission's completion, killing all aboard. Somers, who was educated in Philadelphia, and fellow officers Henry Wadsworth and Joseph Israel and other crew members were recovered and buried.

Following Stevens' death Sept. 11 in an attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the recent desecration of the graves of dozens of British Commonwealth soldiers at Tobruk, local efforts to repatriate the sailors have been redoubled.

Since the 1804 deaths, generations of the Somers family, along with state and federal legislators and officials, have worked, without success, to gain Libya's and the Navy's help to return the remains.

They've been joined by many others, including Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser; naval historian and author Chipp Reid, who wrote the just-released book Intrepid Sailors; and historian and author William E. Kelly Jr., who wrote a history of Somers Point called Three Hundred Years at the Point.

"I would like to see [the Intrepid's crew] shown some respect," said Michael Somers, 40, a Berlin resident and second cousin of Richard Somers seven times removed. "The soldiers of other wars are brought home."

"Why not these?" asked Somers, a paramedic who grew up at Somers Point. "With so much instability there, we don't know what will happen next and whether we will ever be able to reclaim them."

The remains "should be brought to Somers Point for burial," said Reid, who addressed members of the staffs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Friday on the proposed recovery. "This can't be that tough.

"Our fear is that their graves will be desecrated" like those of 35 World War II soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa who were buried at Tobruk, said Reid, 48, of Annapolis, Md.

The Old Protestant Cemetery, where the Intrepid crew is buried, "is small and its only security is a padlock on the front gate," he said.

The sailors "should be brought back quietly, quickly, and without fanfare," added Kelly, who sent a copy of his book and a letter detailing the proposed recovery effort to Stevens a week before his death.

Kelly believes five crew members are buried at the cemetery while eight others are under what is now a parking lot at Green Square, where the followers of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi once held demonstrations.

Commandant Somers, who is believed to be at the walled cemetery, was born in Somers Point, named after the naval hero's great-grandfather. Residents there hold a Richard Somers Day celebration every September.

"Maybe if we wait a week, the Islamists will go to the cemetery and it will be too late," said Kelly, 60, of Browns Mills. "We don't want to call too much attention to this because the graves could be desecrated."

Gadhafi's killing in October 2011 gave fresh impetus to the effort to bring the crew home. Maybe the country's new leadership would make the transfer easier if the Navy got on board with the project, supporters thought.

They were further encouraged by the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which required the completion of a study to determine the feasibility of returning the remains.

That study, released this fall, focused on the problems of recovering the sailors, however, and did not recommend the project. It estimated the cost of recovery and identifying the remains to be about $770,000.

Proponents of the repatriation estimate it could be done for under $50,000.

Somers, Wadsworth, and Israel are believed to have separate coffins, each with markers that say, "Here lies an American sailor who gave his life in the explosion of the United States Ship Intrepid in Tripoli Harbour. . . . "

The rest of the remains were interred on the beach and later - when unearthed during a highway project - were moved to the walled graveyard, Reid said.

The walls were crumbling in recent years until restoration shortly before a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in December.

Kelly said Panetta and the secretary of the Navy do not appear "to have the time or inclination to deal with this issue at the moment, yet it is one that needs to be addressed and acted on as soon as possible."

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R, N.J.), who has supported the effort, met with Navy officials in recent months before the ambassador's death, but a spokesman said he has larger issues to deal with now. While he "is committed to bringing the fallen commandos home, current efforts are put on indefinite hold due to the situation on the ground in Libya," said the spokesman, Jason Galanes.

The recovery effort, though, continues to stir residents across Somers Point. Several of them work with groups to bring the sailors back to their community.

"We have selfish reasons," said Greg Sykora, 48. "We want to bring our son home. . . .
"These men are heroes," he said. "Why would you not want to repatriate them?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


                                   THE TRIPOLI GRAVES – EMERGENCY UPDATE

The Department of Defense study on the feasibility of repatriation of the remains of American Navy personnel in Tripoli, as ordered by the 2012 Defense Authorization Act,  was due in October, but has yet to be completed and released, most likely because of the assassination of the American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

[NOTE - The DOD study was completed and released in October 2012 and apparently did not recommend  repatriation, as expected, but has been intentionally kept from me. It would be greatly appreciated if anyone would supply me with a copy of this non-classified report.]

The September 11th murder of the Ambassador in Benghazi by radical Islamist and al Qaeda associates has been followed by the replacement of Gen. Ham at Africa Command, the relief of a fleet admiral at sea, the demotion of another general and resignation of the director of the CIA in a growing scandal in Washington that has put the military-intelligence administration in a state of turmoil.

The office of Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Navy do not have the time or inclination to deal with this issue at the moment, yet it is one that needs to be addressed and acted on as soon as possible.

Because the same radical Islamists who killed Ambassador Stevens have also desecrated the graves of British soldiers in Benghazi, attacked Mosques in Tripoli and made off with the remains of Sufi Saints and have threatened to do the same to American relics, it is imperative that the remains of the American sailors be exhumed and repatriated to safety as soon as possible.

While the exact location of the graves should be kept from those radical extremists who would damage them if they knew where they were, the cemetery walls will not deter someone committed to desecrating them.

The Secretary of Defense, with the agreement of the Secretary of the Navy and with the approval of the Libyan authorities, should order the POW/MP Office responsible for the repatriation of the remains of American servicemen abroad, to send a team to Tripoli to secure and retrieve the remains in the Intrepid graves at the cemetery. They should be taken to a military forensics lab to see if they can be positively identified as any of the officers or seamen of the Intrepid and then given a proper burial with full military honors.

The original purpose of maintaining the graves in Tripoli – to develop a working relationship with the Libyan government and secure the grave stones as a memorial, has been accomplished, the cemetery has been restored and its history documented. Now that the clearly identified graves of the Americans are seriously threatened by Islamic extremists, it is imperative that the remains in the crypts should be exhumed, examined, identified and properly reburied by Americans, rather than exhumed and desecrated by the radical Islamic extremists, if they haven’t done so already.


1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
CC: All interested parties.

November, 2012

To: Secretary of Defense
From: William E. Kelly, Jr.
Re: Disposition of Tripoli Graves

Dear Secretary of Defense Panetta,

As you have honored them yourself while visiting Tripoli, you are familiar with the graves of the men of the USS Intrepid at Old Protestant Cemetery. Thanks to the efforts of the American government and military in Tripoli, the previously neglected graves of these American heroes have been restored and can remain a memorial monument to America’s stake in the new Tripoli.

It is not secure however, and because of the desecration of the graves of British veterans in Benghazi, the assassination of the Ambassador Stevens and the theft of the remains of Sufi Muslim saints in Tripoli, there is a serious threat from radical fundamental Islamists who will desecrate and destroy the American graves if they could.

The officers and men of the Intrepid died for the same ideals that Ambassador Stevens and Americans soldiers and sailors fight and die for today, so they should be treated with the same honor and respect.

The Gadhafi government and former US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz had previously reached an agreement to permit the exhumation and repatriation of these remains and the new government should not oppose the move today. So with their approval, the POW/MP Office should be ordered to take the necessary measures to quietly exhume the remains of all Americans from the graves at Old Protestant Cemetery and deliver them to an official US military forensic laboratory to determine if they can be positively identified as any of the officers and men of the Intrepid. They should then properly reburied with full military honors. This is a mission that the POW/MP Office can and should be able to do quickly, secretly and efficiently.

At a time when America is under attack and the US military could use some positive public relations, the emergency repatriation of the American heroes from Tripoli and their reburial at home with full military honors will shine a brief but positive spotlight on America and the US military, refresh memories of our mutual history with Libya, and reaffirm our commitment to the ideals Americans die for in foreign lands.
William E. Kelly, Jr.
20 Columbine Ave.
Browns Mills, NJ 08015
(609) 425-6297