Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dear Ashton Carter - Secretary of Defense Designate

Ashton Carter
Secretary of Defense Designate
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
January 2015

Dear Secretary Carter,  

As you know the biggest threat to our national security today is radical Islamists - not a new enemy as we have been fighting them for over two hundred years and should engage them in the same way as our forefathers did against their Barbary Pirates forefathers.

Since you are a native Philadelphian you should be aware of the historic roles Richard Somers, Stephen Decatur, Charles Stewart and James Caldwell played in the establishment of the United States Navy and the defeat of the Barbary Pirates - radical Islamists of the same religious sect we are fighting today.  

When President Washington directed the first flag officer Captain John Barry to recruit a class of midshipman to train as the first officers of a new nation’s navy, Barry chose Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Caldwell, all of whom attended the Philadelphia Free school (now Episcopal Academy) and went on to distinguish themselves in the Barbary Wars; their names are inscribed on the Tripoli Monument at Annapolis, which was meant to be their grave stone, and U.S. Navy warships are named after them.

John Paul Jones is buried in the academy chapel nearby, having been repatriated after being found entombed in an unmarked crypt under a Paris street. First Captain John Barry is buried in the cemetery behind Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Caldwell used to fistfight after school, experience that came in handy when they fought hand-to-hand combat with the Tripoli pirates.

Unfortunately Caldwell was killed during an attack on Tripoli harbor and American prisoners from the captured frigate Philadelphia watched his body mauled by dogs on the beach. While Decatur won fame for using the captured pirate ship Intrepid to recapture and sink the Philadelphia, in one of the first covert operations that today would be performed by Navy SEALS, Somers perished in the explosion of the Intrepid when he sailed the fireship back into Tripoli harbor.

The bodies of Somers, his first officer Lt. Henry Wadsworth, second officer Lt. Joseph Israel and ten men were recovered by American prisoners and buried near the beach where their remains are believed to be in clearly marked crypts in a small walled cemetery near the harbor.

Just as President Teddy Roosevelt ordered the recovery and repatriation of the remains of John Paul Jones from Paris, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the recovery of the remains of the officers and men of the Intrepid from Tripoli, but events intervened.

New research indicates the cemetery was never meant to be a permanent resting place for anyone, only a temporary one, and more than half of the remains in the cemetery have been removed, just as the remains of hundreds of Americans from Wheelus Air Force base were recovered from the Italian cemetery in Tripoli, the remains of the American Naval heroes should be recovered and repatriated home as soon as the security situation permits.

We may not be able to persuade radical Islamists to like Americans, embrace democracy, educate their women and respect the dead, but we can keep them from desecrating and destroying the remains of American naval heroes by doing the right thing- repatriate them safely home so, as James F. Cooper put it, they can be properly buried with full military honors and their friends, family and shipmates can pay their respects.  

Your predecessor Charles Hagel revamped the POW/MP-JPAC office after it was revealed that they conducted fake repatriation ceremonies for public relations. Now you don’t have to fake them, you can have a real one when the remains of the U.S. Navy heroes from Tripoli are brought home. Hagel said, “I’ve directed the POW/MP/JPAC department to develop proposals for expanding public-private partnerships in identifying our missing…to leverage the capabilities and the efforts of organizations outside of government that do responsible work to account for our missing.”

Well this is one such proposal that should be acted on as soon as possible and only you have the authority to order the emergency repatriation of the remains of these men.

When the convicted Lockerbie bomber was released from a Scottish prison he received a heroes’ welcome and the men of the Intrepid deserve at least as much,  and a repatriation ceremony on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York could show the world that we still fight tyranny for the same things these men died fighting for – liberty, justice, democracy and the veneration of our honored dead.

Thank you for your time and attention on this matter,

William E. Kelly, Jr.
Browns Mills, New Jersey

Enclosed is a copy of Chris Dickon’s book: The Foreign Burial of American War Dead – A History (McFarland, 20011), a more detailed background of these people and events, relevant excerpts are posted here:

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