SOMERS POINT — A new president has brought renewed hope in a small city to bring home its local hero, Richard Somers, whose remains have been buried in Libya for more than 200 years.
“We’re just hoping that now that there’s a new administration in, that we can get with them and they’re more favorable to us than the last administration was,” Mayor Jack Glasser said.
Somers, a fourth-generation descendant of the John Somers who founded Somers Point, was commanding a fire boat called the Intrepid during the First Barbary War when it exploded in Tripoli Harbor in 1804. He was buried with his 12-member crew in a mass grave near the shore.
Since that time, his family and members of the community have sought to have Somers’ remains exhumed and brought back to his hometown.
Michael Caputo, an international publicist and former adviser to President Donald Trump, believes the White House will help push the effort.
“I’ve discussed this with the White House,” said Caputo, organizer of the Intrepid Project. “And considering the president’s devotion to veterans, especially combat veterans, I think the idea will get a fair hearing.”
Caputo, who now lives in New York, has been strongly advocating for Somers’ return since the mid-2000s, when he moved to Somers Point for work and witnessed residents’ dedication.
“More than one time over a cold beer, locals would tell me one great wish they shared was the return of Richard Somers,” Caputo said.
On the state level, legislators from both parties have passed resolutions asking the federal government to take up the effort again.
The latest, offered by state Sen. Jim Whelan, a Democrat, was approved in March.
“We all know the line. This is the ‘shores of Tripoli.’ This is what that’s from,” Whelan said, referring to the “Marines’ Hymn.”
He said the hope is that after the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, a new regime would look upon the effort favorably.
But proponents of the repatriation effort harbor some animosity toward then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who they say was never supportive of their effort, as well as Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain from Arizona.
As the repatriation was coming to a vote in 2011 as part of the Defense Re-authorization Act in Congress, McCain offered a watered-down version of the language, instead requesting a review by the Department of Defense on the feasibility of such an undertaking. The study determined repatriation was not feasible.
Meanwhile, advocates were working on having the remains returned as family heirlooms, said Greg Sykora, who chaired the Somers Point Committee to Return Richard Somers. He said turmoil in the north African country jeopardized the effort.
“The Benghazi story is a Somers Point story,” Sykora said. “We lost a very good friend that day.”
He said the city was working with U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and had spoken with him just two days before the deadly attack in Benghazi, where Stevens was killed in 2012.
Since then, the city has created a small park on Shore Road with a monument in Somers’ honor.
“The families want them home,” Glasser said. “We cannot let them stay there anymore.”