FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 17, 2011
CONTACT: MICHAEL CAPUTO, 716-867-5554
INTREPID FAMILIES THANKFUL FOR PENTAGON CHIEF'S CEMETERY VISIT
But has the whitewash of the first USS Intrepid begun?
The following statement may be attributed to Michael Caputo, spokesman for the Intrepid families:
2010 photo of Old Protestant Cemetery's neglected interior
"The families of the crew of the first USS Intrepid are deeply moved by the 'emotional visit' of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to the squalid graves of their forebears. They have worked for more than two centuries to bring their boys home and his visit proves to us that our efforts are finally on the minds of the highest-ranking leaders of our nation. We are all very thankful.
We respect the need for hyperbolic oratory when our nation is building a new diplomatic relationship. However, it is important to correct Secretary Panetta's remarks today: the graves of the Intrepid crew were never properly cared for – by Americans or Libyans – and the cemetery was only recently renovated, some of it in preparation for his visit. Our sources in Tripoli tell us Americans were feverishly working inside the locked cemetery sprucing up the place before he arrived. Reporters who requested access before the cleanup were denied.
The Pentagon and the State Department might be able to shore up the collapsed walls of the cemetery, fix grave markers shattered for centuries, and even build new bridges between our nations, but they can never whitewash history. After being dragged through the streets of Tripoli, fed to wild dogs and then dumped in mass graves, the sons of the Intrepid families were never properly honored for their sacrifice. They are not today.
2010 photo of Old Protestant Cemetery's wall collapsing
The Department of Defense has long ignored the facts surrounding the disposition of the crew of the first Intrepid. In fact, the Pentagon's own news service got it wrong again today: our heroes remains were not "transferred to the current graveyard in 1949." The cemetery was built up around the existing graves of the Intrepid officers in 1830; the enlisted men were recovered from a mass grave by an Italian road crew and transferred to the grounds in the 1930s. The Pentagon does not have their facts straight and they haven't for two hundred years.
The Intrepid families have never stopped begging for the return of their sons and our contemporary efforts resulted in a Congressional directive wrapped into the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Pentagon to present its first factual report on repatriation in 270 days. We hope the families' deep research and abiding concerns will be included in this report. We fear the Secretary's remarks today and the continued errors in DoD reporting do not indicate they will end 207 years of blocking repatriation.
We hope Secretary Panetta's visit to the graves left neglected for centuries moves him to join our effort to repatriate our nation's first Navy heroes, honored as they deserve. In many ways, it is now left up to him and boils down to a simple question: will he honor the historical wishes of the Intrepid families to bring them home where they belong?"