After 207 years, Navy commandos’ wait continues

Navy commandos whose remains have languished in Libya for more than two centuries will have to wait at least a little longer after the Navy on Thursday blocked senators’ efforts to have their bodies brought back to the U.S.

The 13 commandos from the USS Intrepid died in 1804 in a failed raid on a pirate fleet in Tripoli's harbor, and their bodies washed up on shore and were fed to dogs before the remains were buried in two locations.

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, at the urging of some of the commandos’ descendants had offered an amendment to the defense policy bill to have the Navy repatriate the remains.

But the Navy objected, arguing that Tripoli is a fitting resting place, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, blocked the amendment’s consideration.

Senator McCain is still reviewing the issue and has asked the Navy, the Defense POW/MIA Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command for their views on it,” said his spokesman, Brian Rogers.

The Navy told The Washington Times earlier this week that the crew was honored by a ceremony and procession in 1949 along the length of Tripoli’s waterfront. The chief of naval operations said in a memo that leaving the bodies there respects the service’s policy of honoring the final resting place of those lost in downed ships or aircraft.

However, those pushing for repatriation say the grave sites are in disrepair and that there’s precedent for bringing bodies home from foreign shores.

The descendants had thought they had cleared the path for Mr. Heller’s repatriation amendment, including the consent of Mr. McCain, but said that was withdrawn at the end.

“We came real close. McCain told us time and time again he had no problem with the amendment, and then, at the last second, in the 11th hour, he pulled it,” said Michael Caputo, who is coordinating the Intrepid Project, which pushes for repatriation.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion both support repatriation.

Mr. Caputo said the Senate stalemate doesn’t end the matter.

The House already passed its version of the defense policy bill, and it included repatriation language. Now the House and Senate versions will have to be squared with each other, and Mr. Caputo said the families will ask the negotiators to keep the language in the final bill.

The commandos were part of President Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates, who terrorized shipping off the coast of North Africa in the early 1800s. The commandos died while on a stealth mission to infiltrate Tripoli's harbor and sail a flaming ship into the enemy fleet that lay anchored there, trying to destroy it and force the release of U.S. sailors whom the pirates held imprisoned on land.

Their ship, the USS Intrepid, caught fire prematurely, either by accident or because it was hit by a shot from the enemy, and all 13 men perished.

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