WASHINGTON -- Thirteen U.S. sailors who died in 1804 during the First Barbary War and were buried in Tripoli, Libya, may finally be coming home, if the American Legion gets its way.
Since the uprising in Libya broke out six months ago, the veterans organization has been lobbying Congress to bring home the remains of the U.S. servicemen. The crew, led by Master Commandant Richard Somers and Lt. Henry Wadsworth (uncle of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), died when their explosives-packed ship blew up prematurely during a mission to Tripoli.
"It's the best chance we've had in a long time," said Tim Tetz, legislative director for the American Legion. "We've got a change of politics in Libya. We've got family members who have stood up and said, 'We want to have our family members brought home.' We've got the will and might of America to say, 'Let's respect those who fought our wars for us, and that includes all wars.'"
As Politico's Dave Levinthal reports, the American Legion is one of 11 groups that have "formally lobbied the federal government on pet causes that, in one fashion or another, concern Libya." Oil companies, the American Civil Liberties Union and United to End Genocide have all been taking their concerns to the federal government.
The American Legion, with the backing of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), was able to secure an amendment to a House bill directing the Defense Secretary to "exhume and transfer the remains of certain deceased members of the Armed Forces buried in Tripoli, Libya."
The Senate, however, has not followed suit. According to Tetz, one stumbling block may be Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who served in the U.S. Navy.
"He has expressed some concern that he doesn't want to see it pass, which is disconcerting to us, and we've tried to influence him where and when we can. So far, to no avail," said Tetz.
McCain did not return a request for comment.
The U.S. Navy also is opposed to the American Legion's request.
In 2008, Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, told Rep. Rogers, "Navy custom and tradition has been to honor the final resting place of those lost in downed ships and aircraft. The Navy considers the Tripoli cemetery to be the final resting place of these sailors who sacrificed their lives for our nation."
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Alana Garas confirmed to The Huffington Post that Roughead's statement remains the position of the service.
But Marty Callaghan, spokesman for the American Legion, said the current resting place of the Barbary War sailors is inadequate.
"They are buried in a hostile land," he said. "Some of them are buried right underneath the place called Green Square where Gaddafi's government often holds protest rallies and things of that nature. The other bodies are buried in a Protestant cemetery that is not kept up and is basically in shambles, more or less. So this is not the way to treat those who serve America."
He added that there are places reserved in Arlington National Cemetery if the sailors' bodies are returned to the United States.