Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update - Intrepid

My previous post regarding the repatriation of the remains of the 13 Sailors of USS Intrepid crew from Libya has gained considerable attention.  Of course, I have deep sensitivities to our Navy's history and heritage.  I also have a moral obligation to defend my service.  And so I'm doing my best to see the issue of repatriating the remains of the Intrepid crew from the Navy's point of view.  As anyone giving even a glimpse to the argument can tell, the issue is a complicated one.  So let me play devil's advocate and see what shakes out.

After reading some of the correspondence that has been exchanged over the issue, one of the biggest sticking points is the "official burial".  The Intrepid 13 were all killed when their ship exploded, or drowned soon after - we will likely never know.  But their bodies washed up on a nearby beach where they were subjected to various extremely nasty atrocities while other American prisoners were forced to watch.  Some of those prisoners later appealed to the Tripolitan leader to be permitted to bury them, which was granted and they did.  The Intrepid 13 were buried by their fellow Sailors.  True, it was without much of a ceremony, but how many thousands of casualties of war are buried under similar circumstances?  Their burial, however crude, was to some extent official.

It also bears pointing out that the Intrepid 13, taken as a group, are not quite so unique - ever heard about the 271 American Sailors in Dartmoor Prison?  The issue of setting a new precedent has been raised, and I think given the disposition of Sailor remains around the world, there may be some - albeit very limited - domino effect from the repatriation of the Intrepid dead.

The second significant concern is that the currently proposed legislation will divert the US Navy's operational funding to exhume, identify and repatriate the remains - the cost of which is yet to be determined and likely well into six figures.  The Navy is, for lack of a better term, 'hard-up' right now and funding to keep ships and subs at sea and aircraft flying is growing more and more scarce.  Even training evolutions are being curtailed for want of funds to pay for the fuel required.  In an era of continuing resolutions and looming defense cuts in the face of increasing threats abroad, is this really a priority?


We may be already well beyond the Navy's objections - however technically correct they are or might be.  Right now, the nation's elected leaders are considering the issue, and support is picking up steam in both houses.  If it is the will of the people of this nation that their heroes are returned, the Navy will undoubtedly serve that charge to its utmost capacity.  But we should remember that as an institution, it is bound to respect the formalities of its forebears where concerns the disposition of their fallen.

Last night, a letter was introduced to the Naval Heritage Society Board of Directors for immediate consideration. It expressed NHS support for the legislation currently being debated that would require the US Navy to bring the Intrepid 13 home.  The resolution for support of the letter passed by unanimous resolution and will be mailed to a battery of selected congressmen, as well as the Intrepid Project team, today.

After ample consideration of both points of view - the official and the unofficial - the simple fact is this: repatriation of identifiable and accessible remains at the request of the deceased's next of kin is a core commitment we have to our servicemembers today, and ought to be honored, even unto their descendants when the next of kin have passed on themselves.  That family members have worked for so long - since the event, in fact - to repatriate their loved ones' remains bears testament to the strength of feeling on their part and on the part of supporters.

In an age when our true naval heritage is taken for granted, and our forebears seen as marble busts and oil on canvass, the repatriation will undoubtedly have a profound effect in reminding the American people that for more than 200 years, our Navy has been willing to take on our nation's distant enemies, and our Sailors willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our rights and freedoms.  These were real people, each with their own story, including friends and family.  They were well respected and professionally exalted in their time.  It stands to reason that their remains deserve better than they got, and we as a nation owe them a significant debt of gratitude that goes beyond the lip service offered by a visited ceremony.

I just wish this were being handled differently.  Perhaps there is another rice bowl, which runneth over.  I am confident that a proper funding solution will be worked out in the course of the legislative process, as well as in the actual execution of the charge it dictates.

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