The INTREPID 13

As a proud former crew member of the WWII/Vietnam era U.S.S. Intrepid (CV-11), I want to mention that I recently unearthed, by way of the Internet, some very interesting information regarding the actual first (1st) Intrepid (1804) and her crew.

I hope to provide in proper order the story of ‘The INTREPID 13’ as follows:

The BEGINNING

The first INTREPID was a bomb ketch armed with four guns of unknown size. She had a length of 60′, a beam of 12′ and displaced 64 tons. Built in France in 1798 for Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition, she was subsequently sold to Tripoli and renamed MASTICO.

The MASTICO was one of several Tripolitan vessels which captured the frigate PHILADELPHIA on 31 October 1803 after running fast aground on the uncharted Kaliusa reef about five miles east of Tripoli. On 23 December 1803k while enroute from Tripoli to Constantinople, the MASTICO was taken as a prize by the schooner ENTERPRISE and frigate CONSTITUTION and renamed INTREPID.

In February 1804 the INTREPID, in company with the brig SIREN, set out to destroy the PHILADELPHIA before the Tripolitans could fit her out for use against the U.S. squadron in the Mediterranean. At 1900 hours on the evening of 16 February the INTREPID entered the harbor at Tripoli while the SIREN took up station outside the harbor to stand by for rescue or assistance.

Since the INTREPID could pass as a North African vessel, she was able to enter the4 haror unnoticed and two and a half hours later she was alongside the frigate PHILADELPHIA. The Americans, under the command of Stephen Decatur, boarded and, after a brief struggle with cutlasses and scimitars ( a backsword or sabre with a curved blade ), gained control of the frigate. The PHILADELPHIA was set ablaze and the INTREPID managed to escape during the confusion.

Because the INTREPID was able to enter the harbor at Tripoli with relative ease, the commander of the American squadron, Edward prele, decided to outfit her as a fire ship. The plan was to send the INTREPID into the harbor in the midst of the corsair fleet. The men were to set fuses and evacuate the ship where she would be blown up close under the walls of Tripoli. Conversion work was completed on 1 September and on the evening of 4 September the INTREPID, with a volunteer crew of three officers and ten men under the command of Lt. Richard Somers, entered the harbor at Tripoli. At 2130 hours, sometime before expeced, there waa a violent explosion which destroyed the INTREPID.

Commodore Preble reasoned that the Tripolitans must have suspected and boarded the INTREPID prompting the crew to blow her up to prevent the Tripolitans from seizing the valuable powder and explosives. All on board were lost.

Moving forward to the 21th century:

Families to U.S. Navy: Reconsider Intrepid Repatriation

DECEMBER 2011

Guest Post by William Wadsworth and Dean Somers
Mr. Wadsworth is a state representative in Connecticut and a relation of Henry Wadsworth who was killed on board the USS Intrepid in 1804. Mr. Somers is a resident of Somers Point, New Jersey and a relation of Richard Somers, also killed on the Intrepid.

This week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is discussing an amendment that requires the Department of Defense to repatriate the remains of 13 sailors of the USS Intrepidburied in Libyan mass graves. When passed, the U.S. Navy’s first heroes would be brought home.

One of those heroes is Master Commander Richard Somers, who hailed from the humble seaside city of Somers Point, New Jersey. Another is Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth of early Massachusetts, uncle to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Both are celebrated forbears of our families, and we have worked to bring our ancestors home for 207 years.

For two centuries the Navy has opposed repatriating its earliest heroes. Today, it has been quietly lobbying Congress to stop our contemporary effort. Its arguments against repatriation are incorrect and no excuse for leaving these heroes interred unceremoniously on the shore of Tripoli.

The Pentagon insists the Navy did not follow the “no man left behind” policy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead, casualties were buried at sea. In fact, Somers and his men were not buried at sea. Their bodies washed ashore after their ketch exploded in Tripoli harbor on 4 September 1804. They were then dragged through the streets, fed to a pack of wild dogs and then recovered, identified, and buried. American prisoners of war they were fighting to free had been forced at gunpoint to dig two mass graves.

Clearly, our ancestors did not receive an honorable burial.

The Navy also claims the graves of these heroes in Tripoli are similar to American military cemeteries at Flanders, Normandy, or Tunisia, where thousands of Americans are buried under rows of white crosses and flags. These pristine cemeteries are owned by the United States government and maintained by the American Battlefield Monument Commission, which does not maintain the graves of the men of the Intrepid now buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli.

In fact, all evidence backs up historical indications that the remains of most of these great American heroes now lie together in that Tripolitan cemetery, where they are regarded as “American Invaders.” The cemetery is owned by Libya and was left squalid, untended, and in disrepair for over a century. Even though the collapsing walls of the place were recently shored up, we worry what will happen to their unkempt graves in the years ahead – and so should the Navy.

The families of servicemen killed during World War II were given a choice: their remains could be returned home or buried with their comrades. The Somers and Wadsworth families have continuously asked for the return of the remains of Richard, Henry, and their men. We found support among a large and growing bipartisan group of congressmen and senators not satisfied with the Navy’s position. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars also back our effort full-force.

Today, the families of the Intrepid heroes find hope in the House-Senate conference on the National Defense Authorization Act. We were thrilled in May when the House unanimously passed a bipartisan amendment to bring our family members home. Unfortunately, the Navy stepped up its lobbying efforts in the Senate to stop it dead.

In 2007, the U.S. Air Force quietly exhumed the bodies of 72 Americans from Tripoli’s Hammangi Cemetery and returned them to the United States. All but two were infants; all were unknown civilian relatives of American military stationed there in peacetime from 1958 to 1969. No family sought their repatriation. Still, they are home. Yet our brave sailors lie in anvil chorus.

The Navy’s case against repatriating our fallen heroes rings hollow, informed by outdated and incorrect research. We speak for the families of these sailors and plead for Admiral Greenert to reconsider the position he inherited. Instead of blocking our families’ request of two centuries, we ask the service to help honor the valorous service of the 13 heroes of the USS Intrepid and bring our boys home, at long last, for the respectful and dignified burial they earned on the shore of Tripoli.

Recently discovered information:

The Intrepid Project

Why did the Navy Commander leading the POW-MP office contact families of the original USS Intrepid in mocking emails and yet never identify herself?

Below are two emails sent by US Navy Commander Renee Richardson, head of the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel office – the operation in charge of repatriating the remains of US military combat fatalities – to the family of Master Commandant Richard Somers.

In the first email (2008), she never identified herself as being in the Navy. In the second email (2011), Richardson admitted she was in the Navy but never identified herself as head of the Department of Defense POW-MP office. She also got downright insulting to the families.

As one of the Navy’s foremost experts on repatriation, Richardson provides briefings on repatriation to superior officers and is a primary resource informing the Navy’s opposition to the Intrepid repatriation. The emails she sent to the Intrepid families exhibit that she is ill informed and incorrect – a reflection of the Navy’s lack of interest and contemporary information on the topic of the heroes of the USS Intrepid.

— EMAIL2 – 22JUN11 —

From: “Renee Richardson”
To: XXX, XXX
Cc: XXX
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 1:39:37 PM
Subject: Cost of HR 1479

Dear Mr. Gregory, Ms. Hastings and Mayor Glasser,

I watched with wonder as HR 1497 was approved. I am sure that all of you are very pleased. The information that abounds on the various websites dedicated to the mission of repatriation for the crew of INTREPID (lost 4 September 1804) is mostly right, but not completely. On your own site you should ask Mr. Kelly to properly annotate the chronology for the events below (taken from your site and presumably taken from his blog or his book):

“After decisively defeating the enemy in a number of skirmishes, Decatur sailed the Intripid [sic] into the harbor disguised as an Arab trader. He recaptured and sank the Philadelphia without firing a shot and without any casualties. Then Somers, with a dozen volunteers, reentered the harbor, having filled the Intripid [sic] with combustibles. Unfortunately, during the daring nighttime raid the Intrepid prematurely exploded in the harbor. The bodies of Somers and his crew washed ashore the following day and were buried in a nearby cemetery by prisoners from the Philadelphia. An unkempt memorial marks their graves.”

First this chronology suggests that the action taken by Decatur and that of Somers was within a similar time period. Decatur burned the frigate U.S.S. PHILADELPHIA in February of 1804, Somers failed fire-ship mission took place on September 4, 1804. Second the bodies were not buried in “a nearby cemetery.” Rather after being exposed todogs, the elements and the ire of Tripoli’s residents, Bashaw Yusuf Karamanli allowed the bodies to be buried in a communal grave area by some enlisted from PHILADELPHIA along with the Ship’s Surgeon, Dr. Cowley; all of whom were the Bashaw’s hostages.

Nowhere on the miscellaneous sites dedicated to this cause does anyone annotate the fact that in the 1790s and the 1800s the captive European slave population in Tripoli of people taken from pirated ships, was at a minimum (the ones whose names were officially recorded) 600 people. Most of them (unlike the surviving crewmembers from PHILADELPHIA), where never ransomed or returned to their native lands, rather they were worked to death and buried in the same communally designated area as the sailors from INTREPID.

Additionally the remains uncovered during construction by the Italian road crew in the 1930’s were not readily or properly identified as being Americans or from INTREPID. There is no evidence (except the political expediency of post WWII Relations) to suggest that the remains were not merely those of other unfortunate wretches who died in Tripoli. The only anecdotally evidence we have is from 1949, when it was in the best interest of the government of Tripoli to cement relations with the U.S., and suddenly those five unmarked graves are alleged to contain the remains of American sailors from INTREPID. Thus on April 2, 1949 during a ship visit by U.S.S. SPOKANE a memorial service was performed, a plaque erected and the graves marked as being those of sailors from INTREPID. The ceremony was attended by the Commanding Officer of SPOKANE, Captain William Marshall; Rear Admiral Cruzen, Commander Cruiser Division Two; Mr. Orray Taff, U.S. Consul at Tripoli, and Prince Taher Bey Karamanli of Libya. But at the end of the day there is no definitive evidence that suggests that the five graves contain any remains of Americans, let alone remains from the dead of INTREPID.

But let us for the moment set all that aside and leap into the presumption that in fact the graves contain at least some of five of INTREPID’s thirteen dead. And let us imagine that HR 1497 passes and DoD (because the Navy has regularly and wisely said “nay” to exhumation) is forced to repatriate the remains in those five graves–and no doubt sundry other remains outside Tripoli’s original walls just for good measure–do you anticipate that these remains should jump to the front of the line?

Perhaps you did not realize there is a line and that the DoD organizations responsible for recovery and accounting of the Missing-in-Action already have a massive load to deal with. The dead of INTREPID, just for clarification are not MIA, they are buried andaccounted for. And by the way the MIA that are currently being looked for (WWII to Date) still have family members who were ALIVE when their loved one went missing. I did not see any additional funding or resources attached to HR 1497, which means the Bill, if passed, selfishly takes limited resources from modern losses. For WWII there over 73,000 missing in action, for Korea there are nearly 8000, Southeast Asia still has about 1,700 missing and there are some 125 from the cold war.

Not only is the endeavor of this bill selfish in the theft of resources (because it is political and noisy) from extant missions for families who still remember the missing (not as a historic footnote of family lore–but fremembered fathers and husbands and brothers and sons ) but it is potentially also a precedent setting bill that opens liability and government obligation for repatriation from 1804 forward: the First and Second Seminole Wars, the War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, The Civil War, The Spanish-American War, including losses in Cuba and the Philippines, The Philippine-American War, The Boxer Rebellion, the Great War (WWI) and the Banana Wars.

I do not dispute the desire of the descendants (217 years removed) to return their beloved. I dispute that our government (except in assisting permissions and access) is in anyway responsible, or obligated to repatriate these 13 sailors from a failed mission, who are accounted for and buried, not missing. If ten years ago, when Mr. Kelly first started his agitation for their return, all of you had formed a 501 C 3 Not-for Profit, not only would you have already raised enough money to have brought them back, and paid for the DNA testing and Family Reference Samples and genealogy to find all the living relatives, but there would likely have been enough left over to be providing Master Commander Somers’ scholarships to all the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandsons-daughters-neices-nephews. BUT, more importantly you would not now be detracting from the real POW/MIA mission.

As a commissioned Navy officer from a Navy family (Grandfather, father, husband, father-in-law and son) I find it repugnant that this measure should take away from the current MIA/POW recovery missions, whether all of you intended it or not, that will be the consequence.

Respectfully in disagreement over this measure,

Renee Richardson

—EMAIL1 – 7SEP08 —

Questions on Repatriation of Intrepid Crew

TO: William Kelly [Intrepid Project] – Go to: http://www.richardsomers.org

Sir,

I recently came upon your site concerning the “Intrepid”. Having just finished “Six Frigates”, “Jefferson’s War” and “The Pirate Coast” I was looking about on the internet for additional information, what a very interesting bit of history.

I am curious about the repatriation however, as the responsibility for repatriation prior to WW II usually seems to fall to the Service, unless the individual(s) have already been interred–in which case the Service will decline the request (as the mariners have been interred, it is likely the Navy should and will say “no”. Additionally the Navy/Libyans had a dedication ceremony in 1949 indicating the Service considers Tripoli to be the final resting place of these brave souls). Or the cost of repatriation falls to the individual family(ies) of the deceased.

1) That being the case who would bear the cost of this repatriation?

2) Assuming the US Government/Service might choose to absorb the cost, why should these remains (which are properly buried) receive a priority of exhumation/transportation over the 80,000 plus remains around the world awaiting excavation, and identification from WW II, Korea, the Cold War and the Southeast Asia conflict? The families of the “Intrepid” crew, know exactly what happened, they blew up, and they were buried. We even know where some/most/all are buried “Tripoli” in the Protestant Cemetery, along with several Italians and Dutch. That is not the case with so many of the lost from WW II, Korea and Southeast Asia, while the team at Dover is no doubt very good as you put it, they are a limited and costly resource that is engaged in the work to identify and repatriate those who had no real resting place, no grave, no identity even of the remains–and living immediate or at the least first and second generation family members awaiting disposition.

3) Do all 13 families desire the disinterment of the comingled graves?

4) If not, is the encouragement of that disinterment not potentially repugnant to present-day descendants of the deceased and should their wishes not also be respected? As a mother, I for one would not desire that my loved ones remains be disturbed or removed from the finalresting place. As a tax-payer, I can think of better uses for those funds as well.

5) The graves have no names, they merely annotate that these are sailors lost in the explosion of the “Intrepid”, thus we know not who is in what grave and the potential cost to discover that is prohibitive and of a much lesser priority than the identification of more recent losses.

6) Although these are indeed brave men who died engaged in the war to thwart the Beshaw and the Barbary Pirates–an enormously significant and formative action in our nation’s history, what exact purpose is served in digging up, and dragging home the mixed and unspecified bones of these worthy seamen?

On a different note I have your well done book “300 Years at the Point” did not realize you were the same person (blog and book) until I was reading along on your site. Wonderfully enjoyable work.

Renee Richardson

 ———————————————————————-

Congressman wants remains of 13 sailors buried in Tripoli returned

By Jeff Schogol – Published, April 26, 2011

WASHINGTON – For more than 200 years, the remains of 13 U.S. sailors have been interred in Tripoli, and now a congressman is calling on the Defense Department to bring them home.

The USS Intrepid exploded and sank in 1804 while on a mission during the First Barbary War to destroy the Tripolitan Fleet. The captain and 12 volunteer officers were killed.

When their bodies washed ashore, they were fed to dogs, dragged through the streets and dumped into holes, said U.S. Rep Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

Rogers said it is only a matter of time before Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is deposed, so it is important to get ready to work with a new Libyan government to bring the Intrepi’ crew back to the United States. He has been working on this since he saw some of their graves during a visit to Libya in 2004.

“One of the places there is right by the square where they regularly protest the United States of America – hardly a place that you would like to call your final resting place when you’ve sacrificed so much for your country,” said Rogers, an Army veteran.

After feeling the Navy was unwilling to pursue the issue, Rogers introduced a bill earlier this month that would require the Defense Department to exhume the sailors and bury them in the United States. The bill, which is still in committee, requires those remains that could not be identified to be transferred to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

“If it’s one day, if’s one hour, if it’s 100 years, we have the obligation and the responsibility —and I argue the dignity and the honor –to say that we will leave no fallen member of our military behind,” Rogers said. “I look it this way: If that were me, I’d want someone to try to bring me home.”

For the full story and specific details, go to:

http://www.richardsomers.org

For additional information, CLICK on the ‘American Legion Video’ LINK at the top of the screen and look for additional LINKS entitled…Battle of Tripoli 1805 Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4

——————————————————————————–

Again, as a former Intrepid crew member…it makes one wonder!

LET US NOT FORGET THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US

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