Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Foreign Burial of American War Dead - John Paul Jones and Richard Somers

The Foreign Burial of American War Dead – A History (McFarland, 2011) By Chris Dickon

                                                       The Door to the Tripoli Cemetery

“(We) buried them as decently as in our circumstances we could.” – Andrew Sherburne

      The Old Castle Fort at Tripoli Harbor - Built by Christian Chrusader Knights over Roman Ruins 

                                   The Repatriation of John Paul Jones and Richard Somers

By the end of his life, the American naval hero John Paul Jones had become a man without a country. More than a century later, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt would demand a change in that status and open up a bizarre passage in the history of America’s relationship to its military dead…Jones had died in self-imposed exile in Paris but, on the Sunday before his death, Jones had been visited by the American minister to France, the Hon. Gouverneur Morris, about the troubled relations between the United States and the Barbary powers of the Mediterranean.

Morris told Jones that he would soon receive a commission to enter into negotiations with the dey of Algiers for the release of American Christians taken as slaves by Mediterranean pirates and that a suitable military force would be placed at his disposal to back up the negotiations. The commission, however, arrived a few days after Jones’ death.

Indeed, the Muslim pirates of the Mediterranean were among the most vexing problems for the post-Revolutionary America. If an American ship was taken it might be converted to a pirate vessel and its sailors damned to hard lives of perpetual slavery. Christian sailors were especially prized because there would be no scruples about the treatment of infidels. Those who died were buried in Christian burying grounds beneath coastal sands and a few feet above the point of high tide.

In its first years, America chose to accept the cost of doing business rather than fight back. Treaties were negotiated and sums were paid, but they proved to be ultimately unreliable. Over the years, Thomas Jefferson had come to the conclusion that those who took American ships and enslaved American citizens should be punished rather than paid and respect for America’s sovereignty among nations was a paramount requirement. In 1794, Congress directed the building of six frigates designed primarily to fight the pirates, the founding force of the modern U.S. navy.

The Philadelphia had been built by her namesake city and commissioned in 1800. She would eventually cross paths with a Lt. Richard Somers, who was from a merchant seafaring family not far away in Somers Point, New Jersey. Born in 1778, Somers had taken to the sea as a boy as if by instinct. He learned to sail on Great Egg Bay and formed a friendship in boarding school with Stephen Decatur, Jr., both of them destined to become U.S. Naval heroes of a special rank.

In 1801, the ongoing saga of the United States and the pirates evolved into the First Barbary or Tripolitan, War. On the occasion of the inauguration of Pres. Thomas Jefferson, the pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, demanded a tribute of $225,000. Jefferson refused, and the pasha declared war in May of that year by bringing down the flag that flew above the U.S. consulate. Algiers and Tunis soon joined the battle and were met by U.S. Commodore Edwin Preble, commanding a fleet of frigates, schooners and assorted other fighting craft.

                                                           USS Enterprise v Tripoli 

The first American shots in the war were fired from the USS Enterprise against the corsair Tripoli on August 1, 1801. Richard Somers was on the nearby USS Boston at the time and described the encounter in a letter to Stephen Decatur, excerpted in part:

While running for Malta, on the 1st of August, the ENTERPRISE came across a polacca-rigged ship such as the Barbary Corsairs usually have, with an American brig in tow. It had evidently been captured and her people sent adrift. [Capt. Andrew] Sterrett, who commands the ENTERPRISE, as soon as he found the position of affairs, cleared for action, ran out his guns, and opened with a brisk fire on the Tripolitan. He got into a raking position, and his broadside had a terrific effect upon the pirate. But – mark the next – three times were the Tripolitan colors hauled down, and then hoisted again as soon as the fire of the ENTERPRISE ceased. After the third time, Sterrett played his broadside on the pirate with the determination to sink him for such treachery, but the Tripolitan rais, or captain, appeared in the waist of the ship, bending his body in token of submission, and actually threw his ensign overboard….Now I must tell you a piece of news almost too good to be true. I hear the Government is building four beautiful small schooners, to carry sixteen guns, for use in the Tripolitan war, which is to be pushed actively; and that you, my dear Decatur, will command one of these vessels and I another! I can write nothing more exhilarating after this; so I am, as always, your faithful friend, Richard Somers

The Enterprise would eventually come under the command of Decatur, Somers would be successful in a number of Mediterranean encounters (aboard the USS Nautilus) that would lead to the command assignments that would lead to his heroic death.

In 1803, an effective blockade was enforced against the coastal cities, and their harbors were put under attack. In the course of one of those skirmishes, the USS Philadelphia ran aground and was captured on a reef in Tripoli harbor. Her captain [William Bainbridge] and 300 man crew were taken prisoner, most to the rough cells and dungeons of the Old Castle Fort. Equally bad, in the eyes of the US Navy, was that the Philadelphia was taken as prize and preparations were begun to convert her into a Tripolitan warship to be named Gift of Allah.

The actions that prevented the USS Philadelphia from becoming the Gift of Allah would bring together American military heroism, intelligence, might and cunning in an action far from the country’s shores for one of the first time in its history. It was the kind of operation that would be copies in similar situations against similar enemies over the following centuries. And it would lead to the first known burial abroad of named American military members lost in combat.

Key to the success of the mission was a ketch that had served in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign before capture by the British and eventual appropriation into the Tripolitian navy. She was under that flag when Stephen Decatur and the Enterprise found her on a course to Constantinople with a cargo of female slaves. She was easily taken prize and soon renamed the USS Intrepid. It was a fortuitous capture on Decatur’s part because the plan emerged to save the Philadelphia from her captors required the participation of a small Tripolitan sailing ship in an audacious charade.

Commodore Preble had determined that the Philadelphia could not be recaptured and had to be destroyed. The inclination of his young officers was to blast it out of the water with their own battleships, but Preble had a more subtle plan and he gave Decatur the assignment to carry it out. Once commissioned as the USS Intrepid, the little ship was refitted to take on the appearance of a small coastal trader of no military importance. Decatur and his crew took on the clothes and demeanor of worn Muslim sailors, and approached the Philadelphia on the night of February 16, 1804. Hailing the U.S. frigate’s Muslim crew, they claimed to be Maltan ketch made anchorless by recent storms and in need of shelter of a larger ship to ride out the hours until morning.

      The USS Philadelphia burning in Tripoli Harbor as Decatur and his men escape in the USS Intrepid 

As the Tripolitans finally determined that they would be allowed to do so, the crew of the Intrepid mustered its incendiary cargo and began its operation. As the frigate sent out a boat with fasting line, the Intrepid sent out its own boat toward the frigate. By the time the ruse was discovered by Turkish forces holding the frigate, it was too late. The Intrepid and the Philadelphia were linked, and, with little residence, the Americans were fully on board within ten minutes. Each man set fire to a designated part of the Philadelphia and she was fully engulfed in less than half an hour. Without a casualty, the Intrepid sailed away as the American frigate presented a spectacular show of fireworks in the Tripoli harbor, each of her cannons exploding when overheated by the fire. Tides and winds turned the burning ship so that some of the cannons aimed themselves at the city, which was already in turmoil because of the brazen attack.

                                                       The USS Intrepid at Tripoli harbor 

By the late summer of 1804, Commodore Preble was implementing what might, in another day, be called guerrilla tactics against the Tripolitans. In August he summoned the Intrepid back for mission that would turn her into a floating incendiary to be sailed into the midst of the enemy’s navy and exploded. Lt. Somers volunteered to command the mission, which was to use two fast rowing boats and crews to remove Somers and his crew before detonation….

The exact cause of the premature explosion of the Intrepid would never be agreed upon. Commodore Preble took the view that she had been boarded by Tripolitan sailors, prompting the crew to blow up the ship so that her valuable munitions would not fall into enemy hands, thus sacrificing their own lives. Captain William Bainbridge of the Philadelphia would find their bodies the following day. Though a prisoner, he was allowed enough freedom to manage the situation in which the Americans found themselves…The Philadelphia surgeon was able to make better identification of the 13 bodies eventually recovered, and they were buried in Tripolitan earth outside the Old Castle Fort on the harbor. The U.S. Congress expressed its sympathy for the families of those lost, and the war came to an end. A treaty and final ransom of $60,000 was paid to retrieve the Philadelphia crew in 1805.

Lt. Richard Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid would become the first named Americans killed in combat and buried abroad. If their graves were marked upon burial, those markings soon disappeared, in part because Christian symbols were not welcome in a Muslim nation. They would be forgotten until 1930s, then forgotten again until the following century when a small town in New Jersey began to pose provocative questions about equality in the way America remembers it was dead.

                                             John Paul Jones – From Under a Paris Street

The first attempt to return John Paul Jones to his adopted country had taken place over six years starting in 1845. It was a confident plan undertaken by Civil War colonel John Sherburne, by now an author and Jones biographer, and presented to secretary of the navy William Graham. The author would simply travel to Paris, obtain the body, return with it on an American frigate and see to its interment in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.

Gangs of workers labored night and day. Iron rods were pushed between shafts to detect the lead coffins that could not be seen, one of which was believed to contain John Paul Jones. It wasn’t until two weeks after the work had begun that the first lead coffin was found broken open, the body within dismembered at the neck. It proved not to be that of Jones. It was another month before a second lead coffin was found, and another week until a third revealed itself, but without a label to identify its occupant. It was opened after a ventilation shaft had been dug to take off the odor that would result.

Porter described what was found: “The body was covered with a winding-sheet and firmly packed with hay and straw. A rough measurement indicated the height of Paul Jones….The face presented quite a natural appearance,…comparing the other features and recognizing the peculiar characteristics of the broad forehead, contour of brow, appearance of hair, high cheek-bones, prominently arched eye orbits, and other points of resemblance, we instinctively exclaimed, ‘Paul Jones’: and all those who were gathered about the coffin removed their hats, feeling that they were standing in the presence of the illustrious dead, the object of a long search.”

As distinguished scientists and anthropologists preformed an examination of the corpse,…the final judgment of science, seemingly confirmed by a comparison to the head dimensions of a life-sized bust of the admiral by Jean-Antoine Houdon, was that this was, indeed, the body of John Paul Jones. Importantly, the autopsy itself was seen as a milestone in the history of forensics. After one hundred thirteen years preserved in alcohol, the body was supple and strong. It could be determined that Jones had died of “dropsy” (edema born of congestive heart failure), and that he had suffered other disorders that could have been specific to the places in which it was known that Jones had traveled. The admiral was known to have suffered no wounds, and the body had none. Identification confirmed, john Paul Jones was taken to the American Church of the Holy Trinity on April 20, 1905, where his coffin rested beneath a draped American flag to await its return to a grateful nation.

Doubts were immediately raised in the minds of some that the body found could actually be that of a man buried more than a century previously….On June 30, the cruiser USS Brooklyn, which had distinguished herself in the Spanish-American War and was now performing the first experiments in seagoing telegraphy, led a small fleet of U.S. warships into the harbor at Cherbourg to formally retrieve Jones from France. Twenty-one gun salutes were exchanged all around between the forces of the two nations.

On July 6, all of ceremonial Paris was in full dress and people were in the streets in the hundreds of thousands as military personnel, dignitaries and diplomats of America and France came together around the coffin at the American church on l’Avenue de l’Alama in the afternoon.

The body was formally given by General Porter to the United States through an assistant secretary of state and passed on to the care of the U.S. Navy for transit home on the USS Brooklyn. “This day America claims her illustrious dead,” he said of the event, “to testify that his name is not a dead memory, but a living reality, to quicken our sense of appreciation, and to give assurances that the transfer of his remains to the land upon whose arms he shed so much luster is not lacking in distinction by reason of the long delay.”

          John Paul Jones was reburied in the chapel at Annapolis - the U.S. Naval Academy near the Tripoli Monument - which is inscribed with the names of Somers, Caldwell, Decatur and other officers

It would be almost a year before John Paul Jones would be formally put to rest in his adopted country. As his coffin sat in limbo, a war of words began among the cities and cemeteries of the nation over which was most deserving of his mortal presence. The State Department argued that he should be buried at Arlington, the navy that he should rest in the National Sailor’s Cemetery in Annapolis. New York, Philadelphia and Fredericksburg, Virginia, made claims, the latter two because he had lived in those cities at one time….But in the end it was Teddy Roosevelt who chose Annapolis, though not for burial in the common cemetery.

Roosevelt’s instinct about the usefulness of the return of John Paul Jones to his desire for a stronger navy was voiced full force in a speech to ten thousand citizens and sailors of two countries at the naval academy on April 24, 1906. He presented the admiral as the exemplar of resolve and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. He bitterly lamented those times in American history when the country was not prepared to meet its enemies, particularly in the War of 1812.

                                                                   John Paul Jones 

“This nation was guilty of such short-sightedness, of such folly, of such lack of preparation, that it was forced supinely to submit to the insult and was impotent to avenge it,” he said, followed by a command that each military individual and organization be fully prepared for all outcomes. Courage was not enough he warned: “Remember that no courage can atone for lack of that preparedness which makes the courage valuable.”

The Spanish-American War had given firm footing and method to the idea that American dead should be returned home. The dramatic return of John Paul Jones over distance and time set the example of how far a nation would go to complete that task.

                                                           The Intrepid Heroes in Tripoli

“I thought of myself as the discovered of a hidden secret, a secret of heroic death,” wrote Mustapha Burchis of his frame of mind in May 1938. “I dreamed that the American government would take me to America, and I would be a great man. America was a dream to me, a dream of wealth and freedom, and now I had my big chance of having it come true.”

From an old Moslem Family, Burchis had fought against the Italian colonization of Libya as a young man, and been put to work as a prisoner in the harbor at Tripoli. In better years, he rose to become harbormaster of the port and marshal of all who were employed by the Italian government through the Tripoli Port Authorities. He had no formal education, but he was smart and fluent in Arabic and Italian.

In 1938, his dream of America was brought to life by the curiosity of the naval historian and American Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In March of that year, for a reason that was not immediately apparent, Roosevelt ordered the State Department to cable the American embassy in Rome. “Any reasonable means available” were to be used to find the graves of the first named Americans to be buried abroad in combat, Richard Somers and his crew of the USS Intrepid, left behind in Tripoli after the failed attempt to blow up the warships of the harbor in 1804, Mustapha Burchis was deemed the best man available and was offered the job.

“I discussed the problems with my family, relatives and friends. They all thought that I was crazy, and asked the same questions, ‘How can you find the graves of people who died and were buried in 1805?’ [Sic]. ‘Yes, how?’ I asked myself, and I had no answer. However, against everyone’s advice I decided to take a chance and try.” His wife  however, perhaps in her own dreams of America, supported him fully.

Over nearly 135 years, the story of the Intrepid and its men had disappeared into the tides and sands of Libyan history. Burchis knew nothing about the subject, but he was dogged. His research started in the libraries and went into the private collection of princes and pashas, municipal records, the memories of stories heard by wise old Bedouins, and then to the records of the dead held by the Christian churches of the city.

“During this time,” wrote Burchis, “the brothers told me about Christianity and its greatness and way of life, trying to convert me to their religion. It was the first time I had heard about the infidel’s religion. I admired it and saw how near it was to ours because we also believe in one God and a moral life. The differences, I thought, were not important and I remained a good Moslem.”

His research continued in Italian and Arabic newspaper and into the remembrances of stories heard in Egypt by a well-traveled sheik that American sailors might be buried in the English Cemetery on the eastern shore of the harbor.

The British consulate could offer no help, but the suggestion was made that the answers might be learned from the historians of Benghazi, three hundred miles to the east. It would be an expensive journey and his wife sold her jewels to finance the trip, which only took him to more old stories.

Back in Tripoli, he was led to the elders of the Jewish community who had heard stories of bodies buried on the beaches of the eastern shore. Birchus determined that he would find his answers in the traditional gathering places for socializing and the telling of old stories. A hundred-year-old man told him that may American sailors were killed and were buried where they lay on the eastern shore of the harbor. He gave him introduction into the elder Jewish community where the currency of friendship was the telling of fortunes and old stories, from which emerged more old men telling their fathers’ stories.

Birchus was finally led to the conclusion that the bodies were indeed buried in the Old British Cemetery. He learned that the cemetery had been started in 1830 with the burial of the wife of the British consul of the time, it being chosen because of the belief that there were already five Christian burials there from the beginning of the century. With the woman’s burial, the cemetery was walled off, to be maintained as a Protestant cemetery and was sometimes indeed, called the Protestant Cemetery.

Mustapha Birchus wrote the report of his findings in 1939, but by then time had passed him by. World War II had started and Libya would become one of its most dramatic battlegrounds. Italy and America were enemies. Embassies were abandoned and records were destroyed, among them Birchus’ answer to the question originally asked by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could no longer concern himself with the fates of five sailors from a very distant past.

As if the ongoing march of history could not be stopped by war, the Tripolitan harbor master Mustapha Burchis found himself having drinks with friends in a local café on June 6, 1948, the fourth anniversary of D-day. By his account, he picked up a local newspaper and read that the Americans would soon be opening a consulate in his city. “Here is a chance again,” he thought. “This time I will deal directly with the representative of the United States Government.” He had not been able to put aside all of the work he had done, at the indirect direction of Franklin Roosevelt, in finding the burial places of the five American sailors killed in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in 1804.

On December 20 he sent a letter to the consul general telling of his investigation nearly a decade earlier: “I am at the disposal of the United States Government in order to let you know the fate of these heroic sailors.”
The letter was vetted through diplomatic channels and, in March 1949, he was invited to the consulate to put all of his work on the table. It was accepted as correct and hailed by the U.S. Navy as a new and dramatic discovery.

Immediately, naval commanders from all over the Mediterranean region traveled to Tripoli, where Burchis took them to the Old Protestant Cemetery on the outskirts of town and pointed out the five graves in the northeast corner. The USS Spokane was ordered to head to Tripoli for appropriate ceremonies. The Spokane had operated mainly out of Plymouth, England and Norfolk, Virginia, after the war, often in postwar ceremonies, including a “Full Dress” presence in recognition of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain and visits by the royalty of Greece and the Netherlands. As the ship approached Tripoli, its onboard newspaper, The Spoke, exclaimed upon the mission:

History awakens! The graves of five unknown American sailors have been found in Tripoli. The men are believed to have been crew members of the ketch INTREPID, which was responsible for the brazen burning of the PHILADELPHIA at Tripoli, February 16, 1804. Out of the past – out of the pages of history, the memory of these “American Plank owners” rise to be known to the world, through a memorial to be presented by the USS Spokane.

The ceremony on April 2, 1949 was full bore and full dress. A band of Scottish Camerons played martial music as they marched with a unit of the British Army, then in control of Tripoli, from the town to the cemetery. All sorts of admirals, captains, consuls and chaplains offered their thoughts and prayers. The mayor of Tripoli, a direct descendant of the same bashaw who had frustrated Thomas Jefferson to the point of war, was in attendance with 50 other local dignitaries. A memorial plaque was put up, and individual plaques were placed at each grave.

The 1949 ceremony included the Mayor of Tripoli Josef Karamanli, a namesake and direct relative of the bashaw who was the first to declare war against the United States for failure to pay tribute to stop the piracy.

The event was deemed “a worthy tribute to the courageous sailors of the Navy of yesterday from the sailors of the Navy today.” But as time would pass, a discovery of the graves of the Intrepid sailors would be made at least once again, leading only to frustration on the part of a small town in New Jersey.

                                                         Somers Point, New Jersey

              Somers Mansion, Somers Point, New Jersey - Home of Lt. Richard Somers' Grandfather 

In 2006, times were relatively good for the United States and Libya. Rapprochement was in the air with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and it was time to renew the effort to retrieve and return the body of Richard Somers, if no one else, from the 1804 burials at the edge of Tripoli harbor.

Thus, on September 4, 2006, a group assembled at Somers Mansion in Somers Point, New Jersey to honor Richard on the 202nd anniversary of his death. They felt the breezes of nearby Great Egg Harbor Bay on the Atlantic coast and heard the resolve (of a number of people including) writer and activist William Kelly. Kelly had grown up in nearby Camden. Among his causes was the seeking of expanded government transparency in the achieving and investigation of tragic events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

In the matter of Richard Somers, he was resolute: “It is quite remarkable that we are standing in the yard of the home of Richard Somers’ grandfather, where Somers grew up as a boy, from where we can see the bay where he learned to sail, and from where he left to fight pirates, yet to return. And someday soon he will be laid to rest nearby….The efforts to repatriate Richard Somers have thus far taken over 200 years, so it’s not an easy task. Besides the desires of the extended Somers family and the efforts of the citizens of Somers Point, I think it is now time for the American military veterans to get involved and educate people about this issue and try to convince the political administration and the U.S. military that Richard Somers and the crew of the first USS Intrepid can not and will not be the only exception to our long standing policy of never leaving anyone behind enemy lines. We don’t have to convince the Libyans to return the remains of our men, we have to convince our own administration and our own military that now is the time to repatriate these heroes.”

By that time, the New Jersey legislature had declared September 4 Richard Somers day in the state and passed a resolution in 2004 asking the U.S. State Department to “open negotiations with Libyan leaders for the repatriation of Richard Somers and his crew before the anniversary of their deaths. Along with Bill Kelly, the effort was shared in Somers Point by Mayor Jack Glasser, the president of the Historical Society Sally Hastings and the U.S. representative Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey’s Second District.

A diplomatic opening with Libya on the matter had not occurred, but Kelly was still optimistic. He recalled that the country’s first popular naval historian, James Finimore Cooper, had prophesied Somers’ return as he described the burial place of the officers of the USS Intrepid in 1842: “Here, then, lies the remains of Somers, and his two gallant friends (Lts. Henry Wadsworth and Joseph Israel), and it might be well to instruct the commander of some national cruiser to search for their bones, that they might be finally incorporated with the dust of their native land. Their identity would at once be established by the number of skeletons, and the friends of the deceased might find a melancholy consolation in being permitted to drop a tear over the spot which they would finally be entombed." 

Bust of Somers at Somers, New York 

That place of final entombment was already marked out….in Somers Point, New Jersey. It remained only for him to be disinterred from Libya and brought home. Others of those still buried there had their own American advocates in other places, but the focus of Somers Point, New Jersey was full bore on its native son.

The U.S. embassy in Libya had received grave flags from the group in New Jersey and placed them on the graves of five unnamed sailors of the Intrepid at the Protestant Cemetery rediscovered by Mustapha Burchis in 1939. Those sailors, according to contemporary research by Kelly and his group, might have been easily found by Burchis if other records had been available to him at the time. It was Kelly’s belief that the bodies had actually been placed in the cemetery in the early 1930s, after they had been found by Italian road crews in the process of laying down a new street in Tripoli.

Kelly was able to open what he believed would be a helpful contact with the ruling family through the Gaddhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which described itself as “an international non-governmental organization, [which] carries out developmental and humanitarian activities in the social, economic, cultural and human rights fields.”

In 2010, according to William Kelly, that relationship was yielding results in bringing Libya to the table. Also at the seating was the U.S. State Department, for which the small matter of American dead in 1804 might offer an opportunity to build more ambitious accords with the Libyans. A congressional research report on Libya dated December 3, 2007, placed contemporary relations in the context of the Barbary Wars. It told the story of the USS Intrepid in 1804 and reported that “efforts to repatriate the remains of U.S. personnel killed in these early 19th century military engagements with Tripoli are ongoing.”

Another necessary seat at the table would have to be taken by the U.S. Navy, and in trying to gain its interest Kelly invoked the story of the dogged attempt by Teddy Roosevelt and Gen. Horace Porter to find and return the body of John Paul Jones form the soils of Paris. “I’m saying that if this is important enough, people will do it,” said Kelly.

In 2010, the attitude of the navy about Richard Somers seemed to be something more productive, but it was still noncommittal about repatriation. In a letter to Kelly from the chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughhead, dated March 11, 2010, Roughhead told of his personal interest after a visit to Tripoli as a young man, matched with reports from a site visit by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in 2004.

“Honoring the final resting place of Sailors and Marines is a long standing naval tradition,” wrote Roughead. But he pointed out that there had been no documentation of the remains recovered after the explosion of the Intrepid and no usable record keeping of those bodies over the centuries. However, he continued, the navy, State Department and Libyan government had held 1949 ceremonies in honor of the Intrepid sailors at the Protestant Cemetery. Thus, the cemetery “has been officially recognized by the Department of the Navy as the final resting place for her crew. My staff is working with the Department of State and the American Embassy in Libya to ascertain the condition of the graves and what actions can be taken towards their long-term care.”

Repatriation was not mentioned, and William Kelly understood that to bring Richard Somers home, the navy and other organizations like DPMO and ABMC would have to contravene long-standing policies that supported return of the dead only from World War I forward – John Paul Jones being a notable exception.
A further complication was the lack of consensus among parties as to where Richard Somers was actually buried after two centuries of nonexistent record keeping and probable reburials. Though he represented the full Intrepid crew in the lore of Tripoli, no one believed that he was among the five unnamed dead in the Protestant Cemetery. The decades of investigation, research and attempts at reclamation in Somers Point, New Jersey, had resulted in a firm knowledge of the precise place. “Its 520 feet from the West Gate of the Old Castle Fort,” said Kelly, “and when we do an excavation of that site, we’ll find him right where he was originally buried.” Those officers and crew not in the Protestant Cemetery are buried nearby, in his view, under the grass of what is called Green Square.

“If he is to be retrieved,” said Kelly, “he will have an official repatriation ceremony. The captain of the [mothballed] USS Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York City said that they would like to have a ceremony, too.”

In 2011, the difficult history of Libya took another turn as revolution against repressive governments began to spread from Tunisia to neighboring countries. In February of that year, the so-called “Arab Spring” brought turmoil to Libya in the form of a civil war. By mid-year, just half the country was still held by the forces of Col. Muammar Gadaffi, including Tripoli. It seemed safe to presume that previously friendly arrangements with the Gaddafi government and family were in jeopardy, but the people of Somers Point, New Jersey remained optimistic that their effort would soon be back on track on the Libyan side of the equation, though still within the challenge of finding assistance from the U.S. Navy.

                      U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz and U.S. Military Attache Brian Linvill 

Photo Caption: In 2010, the Protestant Cemetery on Tripoli Bay was visited by American representatives, from left to right, military attaché Brian E. Linvill, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz and his wife, Annette Cretz. The American flags mark five unknown crew members of the USS Intrepid, killed as the ship tried to set fire to Tripoli Harbor in 1804.

Appendix I: American Sailors Buried in Tripoli, Libya, since 1804

Three American officers and seamen were buried in Tripoli, Libya, after the explosion of the USS Intrepid on September 4, 1804. They were members of a crew assembled from three navy ships and their names follow that of their ships:

USS Intrepid: Master Commandant Richard Somers, Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth, Midshipman Joseph Israel (14 years old)
USS Constitution: (all believed to have the rank of seaman): William Harrison, Robert Clark, Hugh McCormick, Peter Penner, Issac Downes, Jacob Williams;
USS Nautilas: (all believed to have the rank of seaman): James “Bos’n” Simms, Thomas Tompline, James Harris, William Keith.

It is believed that ten seamen were buried on the beach, and three officers were buried together on land above the beach. Known and possible reburials since 1804 have resulted in five unnamed Intrepid crew being buried in a Protestant cemetery near the beach and the belief that the crewman are buried at one location under what is now Green Park. Richard Somers and two other officers are believed to be buried in another location beneath Green Park, approximately 500 feet from the west gate of the Old Castle Fort.

UPDATE – William Kelly Notes:

                                                           The door to the cemetery 
                                                Will that padlock keep the terrorists out? 

The idea that the five crypts at the cemetery identified as men of the Intrepid were interred there by an Italian work crew stems from letters between an Italian military soldier who participated in the road work and Linwood, New Jersey historian, the late Frank Kemp, whose book Nest of Rebel Pirates details the revolutionary war battle at Chestnut Neck, N.J. in which Lt. Richard Somers’ father Revolutionary War Privateer Captain Richard Somers participated. The Italian veteran soldier told Kemp that his work crew uncovered the remains of five men and placed them in the crypts in the cemetery. Because the three officers were originally buried apart from the ten seamen, these five remains were suspected to be from among the ten seamen, so the three offices and five men should remain buried in the original grave site “one cable’s length” from the old castle fort.

However, since Chris Dickon’s book was published further research has led to the publication of two more books, one by Libyans on their history of the Tripoli cemetery. This cemetery has been nominated by the US State Department to be listed as a UN protected World Heritage site. Unfortunately dozens of allegedly protected World Heritage sites have been recently destroyed by radical Islamists in Afghanistan, Timbuckto, Africa, Syria and Iraq so such listings do not protect the sites from the marauding terrorists.

Another new book Intrepid Sailors, by Chipp Reid focuses on the men of the Intrepid, and using new research and data including information from the Libyans, Reid has concluded that the small walled cemetery near the harbor was built around the graves of the officers and the men of the Intrepid and thus contains the remains of all 13.

Reid, a former US Marine and Iraq war veteran was with a group of citizens from Somers Point, N.J. who visited Washington D.C. in 2011 to enlist the support of the American Legion and lobby Congress to include the repatriation of the Intrepid sailors from Tripoli in the 2012 Defense Authorization bill. The Somers Point delegation, led by Mayor Jack Glasser and Sally Hastings, the president of the historical society enlisted the cooperation and support of Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R. N.J.) and Mike Rogers (R. Michigan) chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

                  U.S Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens at the graves of the Intrepid Sailors in Tripoli 

Their efforts were thwarted at the last minute however by Sen. John McCain (R. Arizona), who pulled the resolution from the bill at the request of Admirals and other top brass in the Pentagon, but LoBiondo and Rogers managed to get the inclusion of a DOD study of the possibility of repatriation of the remains of the Tripoli heroes.

Although it would have cost less to just bring back the bones of these men, than the half-million dollars it was said to have cost, the report, as expected, concluded the Tripoli cemetery was and is the permanent and everlasting resting place for these men, even though the threat posted to them by radical Islamists was not mentioned or even considered.

While cooperation with the Gadhafi government made it possible, and the first American Ambassador to Libya supported the repatriation, suggesting that then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visit Tripoli and return with the bones of the Intrepid men herself, events interviened.

At the urging of the US State Dept., the Libyan renovated the cemetery, preserving the graves of the American navy heroes, and Defense Secretary Penetta, while on an official visit to Tripoli, visited the graves and left a coin on one of the crypts. 

                    Secretary of Defense Penetta places coin on the crypt of an Intrepid sailor in Tripoli 

Mohamid Bousi

Shortly thereafter however, Mohamid Bousi, a Tunesian vending chart merchant, set himself afire and sparked the Arab Spring revolutions that quickly took down two North African dictators and threatened others, including Gadhafi.

The first Cruise missile fired in support of the NATO intervention in the 2012 Libyan revolution was fired from the USS John Barry – named after the first flag officer of the U.S. Navy who recruited Somers, Decatur, Stewart and Caldwell to be first officers.

When North African pirates captured an merchant oil ship and  held the captain for ransom, three of the pirates were simultaneously shot by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers from the fantail of the USS Bainbridge – named after Captain William Bainbridge, skipper of the captured frigate U.S.S. Philadelphia. Bainbridge survived the court martial over his loss of the Philadelphia, and went on to greater glory.

Other U.S. Navy warships have been named in honor of the Tripoli heroes, including Stewart, Decatur and Caldwell, six have been named USS Somers, and a new one has been named the USS Tripoli, reflecting the honor and respect these men give the United States Navy and connecting their fight then with our fight today.
After McCain lost the presidential election to Obama, Chuck Hagel was appointed Secretary of Defense with the goal of withdrawing all American military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he did with honor. Hagel, the first combat veteran (Vietnam) to serve as a civilian Defense secretary, listened to the protests of the widows and families of Vietnam veterans who never returned and were listed as Missing In Action and Prisoners of War. They complained that the Pentagon’s POW-MP accounting office and the JPAC unit in Hawaii were not living up to their responsibilities.

The United States still can not account for thousands of missing Americans in Vietnam and Southeast Asia while the Australians quietly honored the return of the remains of the last of their unaccounted for soldiers from Vietnam.

Media reports and internal military investigations supported the families who complained and alleged for years that the POW/MP and JPAC detachments were years behind the times in failing to properly use DNA to identify remains and held fake repatriation ceremonies as a public relations ploy, Hagel revamped both departments, combined them into one and changed certain policies to include a unique partnership between the government, the military and responsible private citizens.

Now the graves of the American naval heroes in Triopli are threatened by the radical Islamists who control the city including the harbor and the cemetery where the men of the Intrepid are entombed in clearly marked above ground crypts. 

                           Radical Islamists desecrate the graves of British veterans in Tobruk, Libya 

These radical Islamists don't believe in veneration of the dead and won't let anyone else do it in areas they control, where they dig up the remains of Sufi and non-orthodox Islamist saints from under the floors of mosques. 

From the floors of a Triipoli mosque Islamist grave robbers dug up and made off with the remains of revered Sufi Saints - and are now a threat to the graves of American naval heroes 
The Foreign Burial of American War Dead
A History

Chris Dickon

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-4612-4
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-7864-8501-7
65 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
308pp. softcover (7 x 10) 2011

Normandy, Flanders Field and other overseas cemeteries of the American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC) are well known. However, lesser-known burial sites of American war dead exist all over the world—in Australia and across the Pacific Rim, in Canada and Mexico, Libya and Spain, most of Europe and as far north as the Russian Arctic. This is the history of American soldiers buried abroad since the American Revolution. It traces the evolution of American attitudes and practices about war dead and provides the names and locations of those still buried abroad in non–ABMC locations.

Writer Chris Dickon is an Emmy-winning former public broadcasting producer, reporter and writer. He has published several books on lesser-known aspects of American history. He lives in Portsmouth, Virginia.

 "This work compiles names and locations of Americans who died in wars on foreign soil who are buried in locations which are outside of the system of the American Battle Monument Commission...the book traces the evolution of American attitudes and practices regarding its war dead"--Reference & Research Book News.

Chris Dickon is a writer and veteran television and radio producer/​reporter/​writer with most of his previous work in public broadcasting, and current effort in book and article writing and research. His documentaries, features, reporting and interviewing have been broadcast nationally on PBS stations and on National Public Radio, and internationally on the Voice of America. Awards for his broadcast work have come from Columbia University, Ohio State University, the University of Missouri, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, and included an Emmy from the Capital Region Chapter of NATAS.

As an author of six books, he has brought the storytelling and graphic style of broadcast production to books that tell little known stories of American history. His most recent book, Americans at War in Foreign Forces, tells the story of the 75,000 plus Americans who fought in the two World Wars as members of Canadian, British, French and other foreign forces. It complements The Foreign Burial of American War Dead, which traces the history of American war dead still buried abroad since the Revolutionary War, and the evolution of American attitudes and practices about its war dead. A third book in the series will profile the World War I American poet Alan Seeger.'t believe in the veneration of the dead - and are grave robbers who have dug up and stolen the remains of Muslim saints and holy men buried in the floor of mosques and will desecrate and steal the remains of the American naval heroes as soon as they are able. 

Now is the time to prepare a mission to retrieve the remains of these men as soon as the security situation in Tripoli permits. 

Here Lies - 

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