We've all heard it; "We don't leave our men behind." "We will come back for you." "You will not be forgotten." Really?
We all see the ubiquitous POW/MIA flag, but does it really mean anything - does it have an experiation date?
A quick review:
United States Navy Master Commandant Richard Somers was one of the first officers to enlist in the new Navy at the turn of the 19th Century. The young officer and his men fought gallantly in America’s first naval war against the States of North Africa. He died with his 12-man crew of the USS Intrepid on September 4, 1804 while engaged in a secret mission during the Battle of Tripoli.We have a window - a closing window - to get our Sailors home. We know where they are; we have the people to get them.
Today the first Navy commandos lie abandoned in mass graves in a foreign land.
When their bodies washed up on the shores of Tripoli, the bashaw - the king of the pirates - invited a pack of dogs to devour them as American prisoners of war looked on. These 13 naval heroes remain buried today in mass graves in Libya.
We even had the ability to get them home ... until about 3:30pm EST today when after being on the brink of getting the funding to bring them home, and after stating for so long to family members and supporters that he would support bringing them home, Sen. McCain (R-AZ) stated that he would no longer support it.
Yes, that Senator McCain. Of all people; he killed it.
What seems so straight forward, isn't. This has a nasty past going back years. A book could be written on this project - as a matter of fact it would make a great book - but instead of doing that here, let's focus on one critical part that was played in killing this. A part played by one of our own; CDR Renee Richardson, USN - head of the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel.
She has an email trail - one where she strangely doesn't describe her position in the matter the way one would suspect. In an email to the family of Master Commandant Richard Somers in 2008, she fails to identify herself as being in the Navy; no big problem I guess. In the second email from this year, she did admit she was in the Navy, but didn't state that she was head of the Department of Defense POW-MP office.
Imagine you are someone in the Somers family line. Don't poo-poo the time-gap either. For those of us who can trace our family lines in the USA pre-nationhood, 200 years isn't that far. Heck, I have two family Bibles that date back to the 1820s.
Anyway, put yourself in their shoes ... then read these two emails.
----EMAIL1 - 7SEP08 ---Who is CDR Richardson? Well - you can listen to her in the video below.
Questions on Repatriation of Intrepid Crew
TO: William Kelly [Intrepid Project]
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.
-- EMAIL2 - 22JUN11 ---
From: "Renee Richardson"
To: XXX, 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,
How can you square what she said above with her actions WRT the Intrepid Sailors? Hard to - I offer her this space to respond if she wishes to, but until then - I will let her words speak for themselves. Right now, I am gobsmacked at its callousness, generational bias, and totally lack of the concept of honor and keeping faith with the fallen.
I'm not sure her facts are quite right either. Working with Michael Caputo; here is a little light fisking of her email #2.
Para 5 -
"...they were worked to death and buried in the same communally designated area as the sailors from INTREPID."Wrong. The men of the Intrepid were buried over a mile from the area where slaves were buried. The Intrepid crew was buried in an
identified area, not among slaves and others. They can be easily located and exhumed. This is answered in The Intrepid Project's document "Answers to the Navy" point 1.
Para 6 -
"...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"Wrong. From The Intrepid Project's report, "Final Burial Place", "According to Italian maps and accounts contained in “Secrets,” the engineers found the bodies close to the water while they worked on constructing a landfill for the future Al-Fatah Highway. With help from the Libyans, who knew the general location of the Intrepid enlisted men’s mass grave, the Italians exhumed the remains they found, identified them as American using bits of uniform and buttons, and interred the remains in a pair of empty Cemetery coffins" This is from our report "Final Burial Place..." on page 4 and comes from a deeply researched and heavily footnoted Libyan scholarly work called "Secrets of the Old Protestant Cemetery" in Arabic. The disturbing thing is the US Navy was offered a copy of this 2008 seminal research and REFUSED it.
Para 6 -
"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."The parade of fail continues. The burial report above shows these are the men. There is no evidence to the contrary, and CDR Richardson is one of the only people out there who is still peddling this theory.
Para 7 -
"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?"Amazing. First of all, the legislation is very clear what remains are to be repatriated - her concerns were taken care of by Sen. Heller with very specific language as to what the repatriation must accomplish. "Sundry other remains" will not be affected. Also, why shouldn't they be the first to be repatriated? This is an officious statement of a frustrated bureaucrat with no facts or information. Has she started to take this personally? Is this a control thing with her?
Para 8 - She calls the family selfish and accuses them of theft of resources. Says remains of combat heroes are worth more when they have live relatives and this repatriation will start a domino effect of family requests for historic heroes' remains.
The entire paragraph is sophomoric and pedantic, answered by the "Final Burial..." report. Live families waiting for remains are answered in point 5. Domino affect is answered in point 2: There are no pending family requests to repatriate these other historic combat veterans while the families of the Intrepid crewmen have never stopped asking for their return. This is according to the foremost expert on foreign burial of US remains, Chris Dickon.
Para 9 - She accuses The Intrepid Project and others of being lazy in raising money to pay for this, ridicules "great-great-great..." relations all wanting them home. Then accuses those supporting return of our Sailors of detracting from the real POW/MIA mission.
First, she is WAY out of line. Second, if recovering combat heroes remains from confirmed locations is not the real POW-MIA mission - what is?
Para 10 - She calls this effort "repugnant." I think that the families of the crewmen of the USS Intrepid would find it beyond repugnant that an officer of the US Navy would contact the families of the fallen to load insults and misinformation on them. Did CDR Richardson take classes on leadership from CAPT Holly Graf?
I still cannot believe that we are going to let this pass us by. Have we fallen that far Navy? If there were the remains of a dozen Marines in North Korea near the Chosin reservoir and a small window opened to let us in to bring them home, would some Lt. Col. give the families the raspberry? Would General Amos shrug and tell people to get over it?
If you want more detail on this, you may recall the interview we did with Michael Caputo of The Intrepid Project on Midrats back in July. Listen to the second half of the hour for more details.
This isn't an isolated problem. There is something very wrong in our Navy when we spend millions of dollars on junk from a couple of million dollars in one year for "Diversity recruiting" for USNA, to the horrible waste created by Task Force Uniform - yet we abandon our dead like so many piddle packs.
It isn't just those from a couple of centuries ago either - ask the families and surviving crewmembers of the dead from GEORGE ONE.
All the words that some speak from a podium a couple of days a year about our "sacred promise" from the cheap seats just smells like fried air; hollow words of the paper mache patriot.
Someone give me a good reason why we don't bring our Sailors home. It isn't the money. Including the cost of fuel for military aircraft, estimated cost to bring our Sailors home is only $80,000 to $100,000 - a rounding error for what the Dept. of the Navy used to throw at the disgraced late Congressman Murtha's district. Then again - we are naming a ship after that thief who called our Marines murderers.
Admiral Greenert, Senator McCain. Shame on both of you. Shame.
UPDATE: I don't want to make this personal, but how do you square this way of thinking about buildings compared to human remains of roughly the same age?
Bladensburg's historic Bostwick house passed through three families in 255 years and each left their signature. Through renovations and additions, the centuries-old mansion has undergone as much change and growth as the town surrounding it.
In 1997, the city purchased it and Bladensburg officials are now waiting for the results of a feasibility study due this fall to decide how to best honor its legacy, while improving tourism and economic development in the area.I don't know what to say.
The main house built in 1746 passed to his son-in-law, Benjamin Stoddert, who became first secretary of the Navy.
One possible use the city council is considering would include a conference center on 1.4 acres atop Lowndes Hill, behind the main house. Other options include a museum and tourist attraction or a reception hall.
In the meantime, though structurally sound, the interior of the house has fallen into disrepair.
For now, a family with a love of historic homes is working to stabilize the structure and wall surfaces on behalf of the town. Navy officers Reneé Richardson and her husband Stanley Richardson, with help from their four children and Renee's brother Mike Rivard, spend their off-hours and leave time working on the home because they would "hate to see a historic home deteriorate," said Renee. Their Navy housing allowance is kept in a town account used for materials and supplies for the rehab work.