RICHARD SOMERS REPORT September 2007 January 2008
SOMERS POINT, N.J. The people of Somers Point have long memories, especially when it comes to a war hero who joined the Navy to fight pirates over two hundred years ago and is still expected home someday.
Those interested in the repatriation of Richard Somers will be glad to know of the exciting news and developments in this 200 year old story.
For starters, the renewal of official diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya is a huge step forward in the efforts to repatriate Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid.
The appointment of Gene Cretz as U.S ambassador to Libya, subject to approval of the U.S. Senate, will open the doors for exchange of ambassadors, ideas, trade and eventually the bones and relics of our heroes.
The circumstances today are not that different from Somers’ day.
Today we have an unending war against terrorism with armies in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting fundamental Islamic warlords, while then we were fighting Barbary Pirates in the same theater with similar beliefs and convictions. They then held 300 American sailors (from the captured frigate USS Philadelphia) hostage in the dungeons of Tripoli castle, held for a ransom the United States refused to pay.
Instead Somers and the Mediterranean Squadron were ordered to confront and engage the enemy, defeat them in battle and win the release of the hostages. Not an easy mission, but one they eagerly undertook. Somers fought in the Battle of Tripoli and then died with twelve other men in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor, September 4, 1804.
The bodies of the three officers and ten men washed ashore and the next day American prisoners from the castle dungeon buryried them in the sands below the castle walls. The three officers were buried separately from the ten seamen, but all were interred in a small plot that became part of a park near the castle. And there they remained for over a hundred and fifty years, until the 1930s when Italian road builders uncovered five of the remains, which were reinterred in crypts at the Old Protestant Cemetery not far away. [See: Photos of Tripoli Cemetery]
Efforts to repatriate the remains of Somers and his crew were continually thwarted as hostilities flared up and died down over the years. After a few decades of terrorist attacks and periodic bombings, the situation has changed radically over the past few years.
Col. Momar Quadafi, who assumed command in a coup in 1969, has renounced terrorism, assumed responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, made partial payments to the families of victims, turned over his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and released the Bulgarian medics who had been imprisoned and sentenced to death. The last remaining hurdle hindering full diplomatic ties is the final payment to the families of victims of Pan Am 103.
Some military historians say we are only now ending the war with the Barbary Pirates that started over two centuries ago, and in some ways we are, and the resolution of outstanding disputes will eventually result in the repatriation home of the remains of Somers and his men.
First and most significantly, the United States and Libya have diplomatic relations again, so official public communications can begin.
President Bush announced the appointment of US Ambassador Gene Cretz [See Notes], but Senate Democrats, led by N.J. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, have threatened to block the appointment unless Libya lives up to its previous agreements, including the final payment of restitution to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103.
While these other issues are important, someday soon the primary issue will be the Repatriation of the remains of Richard Somers and the crew of the Intrepid, and we should be ready for that eventuallity.
The burrial site has been selected, between Somers Mansion and the Atlantic County Heritage Society, a new monument design has been chosen, based on the Tripoli Monument at Annapolis, and the USS Intrepid Association has been anticipating the return of the aircraft carrier Intrepid to its West Side Manhattan slip, and the conducting of Repatriation ceremonies on deck upon the return of the original Intrepid crew.
A local film maker is working on a documentary film about the repatriation, and the Somers and Leaming families are getting together to seek the return of the Somers' Washington ring, which could be put on permant display at the Heritage Society. Between the Somers' grave monument and the ring, there should be a lot of historic tourism generated by continued interest in this story.
The New Jersey State Department of Transportation projects in the area give Somers Point a few years to design and build a tourist friendly area around Somers Mansion, the Somers' prospective gravesite and the Atlantic County Histoircal Society, so when these projects are completed, it will be easy for people to park and walk around these historic sites and the bayfront.
For now, we must further educate Mr. Gene Cretz and Senators Lautenberg and Menendez about the story of Richard Somers and his mission, and how we must complete the mission by repatriating Somers and the men of the Intrepid.
Richard Somers Day September 4th day he died, September 13th John Barry Day, September 15th, the day Richard Somers was born, is also Constitution Day.
Now, thanks to the unanimous support of the New Jersey legislature, September 4th is officially recognized as Richard Somers Day, but since that falls on Labor Day weekend, the Richard Somers Committee has been meeting to memorialize him on other days.
They may move the memorial to his birthday, September 15th, which is also Constitution Day, which like September 13th, Commodore Barry Day, is not only officially recognized by the state as holidays, but are days that state schools are required by law to teach students about Commodore Barry and the Constitution. While not recognized as such, they are all related subjects, as the Constitution was approved by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia where young Richard Somers was a student at the Episcopal Academy and John Barry was the Sgt.of Arms at Independence Hall and possibly Richard Somers’ school instructor at the Academy.
The Constitution would not have been ratified if John Barry had not escorted two reluctant delegates to the chambers by intimidation in order to ensure a quorum.
So getting schools to teach lesson plans about Richard Somers, John Barry and the Constitution during that first week of school does not seem unwarranted, though as a law unenforceable, it should be encouraged.