The House has passed the "National Defense Authorization Act of 2012" (NDAA), which includes a provision authored by U.S. Congressmen Mike Rogers (MI-08) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02). It requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to begin the process of identifying and returning 13 Navy commandos buried in mass graves in Libya to the United States. They were killed in Tripoli, Libya in 1804.
"I strongly believe that the United States has an obligation to leave no member of the Armed Services behind, especially after sacrificing so much for their country," said Rogers, a former officer in the U.S. Army, member of the conference committee that produced the final bill and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "These heroes deserve better than to be left in decrepit mass graves on foreign soil. Bringing the remains of those brave commandos home and giving them a proper military funeral will finally bring a sense of closure to a tragic story that has lasted far too long."
In September of 1804, the 13 American sailors were killed in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli Harbor. The Navy's first commandos -- precursors to today's Navy Seals -- were on a mission to destroy Tripoli's naval fleet during the First Barbary War. When their bodies washed ashore on the beach in Tripoli, they were fed to a pack of dogs as American prisoners of war looked on and then dumped into two mass graves.
Rogers has long sought to bring the 13 commandos home, inquiring over the years with the State Department and DoD on available avenues to retrieve the bodies from Tripoli. Rogers visited the grave sites in 2004 and authored legislation to repatriate the sailors (H.R. 1497) that was approved by the full House in May.
Specifically, the NDAA instructs the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Defense Department to report back to Congress, in no more than 270 days, about the feasibility of recovering the missing commandos. That determination must be based upon costs of the operation, facts surrounding the incident, precedent for retrieval and historical information. DoD must also determine their ability to positively identify the patriots within two years. Additionally, diplomatic issues needing to be addressed between the United States and Libya prior to exhuming the bodies must be included in the report.
"After years and years of unexplained delays and blatant stonewalling, the U.S. Navy will now have to begin the process of bringing our nation's greatest heroes home," praised LoBiondo, a member of the House Committee on Armed Services. "The historic life of U.S. Commander Richard Somers has positively affected and inspired not only residents of Somers Point and South Jersey, but individuals across the country. The definition of an American hero is Richard Somers and his fellow sailors, who bravely fought and died for their country. I'm pleased that Congress agrees that they should be returned home to be buried with dignity by their families and communities with the gratitude of a grateful nation."