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Dispute on the Shores of Tripoli

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Among the many ramifications of the change in government in Libya is a newly opened fissure in the military community over an important historical legacy.

As detailed in Friday's Washington Post, a movement of veterans, descendants and lawmakers is seeking to bring home the two-century-plus-old remains of 13 U.S. sailors who perished in the 1804 explosion aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid off of Tripoli during the war against the Barbary pirates. They are buried in a Protestant cemetery in Tripoli.

The Navy, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., take the position that the sailors should remain in their "final resting place." The fact that they do not support currently pending legislation prompted an angry note to Government Executive from Navy combat veteran AJ Castilla of Boston: He writes:

America didn't leave then POW McCain behind in Vietnam when his father, then Admiral John McCain Jr., asked us to gain his son's return. Likewise, we should not ignore these families' wishes of getting their heroes returned to the U.S. My concern is the harm Senator McCain and the Navy's action will now do to the nation's already lowered volunteer military recruiting numbers. If every parent, spouse and family, knows that their volunteer's military guardian and one U.S. senator can prevent their killed-in-action loved one's recovery, then who in their right mind will loan us their son or daughter in service to our country, possibly to make the ultimate sacrifice?

On the other hand, the liberation of Libya may make it easier for Americans to visit the graves in their historic setting.

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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