WASHINGTON — Lt. Henry Wadsworth is not coming home, for now.

Historians and his descendants had hoped to recover the remains of the Navy officer from Maine who died in 1804 aboard the Intrepid in Tripoli’s harbor. But Maine’s senators and other lawmakers were unable to get the repatriation of the Mainer and 12 other sailors into a defense bill that’s being voted on this week by the Senate.

Their support failed to shake the opposition of the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, who sources say blocked the amendment from being in the final bill.

That dismayed Jack Wadsworth, 63, of Hiram, a descendant of Revolutionary War Gen. Peleg Wadsworth, Henry’s father.

“I am a little bit surprised that this is the way it all turned out. I thought that is what they tried to do anyway, is to bring remains home,” Wadsworth said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who worked with the American Legion and Intrepid descendants, is disappointed about the defeat but will continue trying to repatriate the sailors, her office said Wednesday.

The Intrepid tried to sneak into Tripoli’s harbor during the First Barbary War and blow up pirate ships that were attacking U.S. merchant vessels, but all 13 aboard were killed and washed ashore.

There is a monument to Wadsworth, who was second-in-command on the Intrepid, in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery. The 20-year-old officer was the uncle and namesake of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Richard D’Abate, executive director of the Maine Historical Society, said he talked to the offices of Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, about the repatriation effort, and he still hopes Wadsworth’s remains can be brought back to Portland. He noted that Libya’s current instability could present obstacles to repatriation in the near future, at least.

The Navy says it believes the sailors already are in their final resting place — Tripoli’s Protestant cemetery, where a ceremony in honor of the Intrepid sailors was attended in 1949 by U.S. and Libyan officials and U.S. sailors and Marines.

“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert considers the Tripoli Protestant cemetery to be the final resting place of the Intrepid sailors who sacrificed their lives for our nation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Alana Garas, a Navy spokeswoman. “Navy custom and tradition is to honor the final resting place of those lost in ships and downed aircraft.”

But Michael Caputo, head of the nonprofit Intrepid Project, said the cemetery is not well cared for, is in a country that has been hostile to the United States for decades and remains unstable, and has graves that are dilapidated and in some cases unmarked.

It is possible that some of the men’s bodies were dumped into an unmarked grave beneath Green Square, where the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi held anti-American rallies. But Caputo said new research has established that Wadsworth and most of the other sailors are in the cemetery and could be identified and brought home.

The gravesites are “squalid, unkempt and at risk of falling into the sea,” said Caputo, a public relations executive who founded the project as a volunteer after he learned of the Intrepid’s history from the family of its commander, Richard Somers.

The cause was taken up in Congress by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who learned of the remains of the Intrepid’s sailors in 2004 during a visit to Libya.

Rogers said earlier this year, after the House passed his repatriation legislation, that even though the Navy wants to leave the remains where they are, and considers the graves in Tripoli a final resting place, “our country should never leave a fellow American in uniform behind.”

The repatriation would be paid for with Defense Department funds and carried out by an agency that locates and identifies veterans of wars.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who authored the Senate repatriation amendment, said Wednesday that he is disappointed by the failure in the Senate but is “committed to making sure these fallen sailors receive the recognition they deserve, and (I) will continue working with my colleagues until this legislation becomes law.”

McCain’s office would say only that he is “still reviewing” the issue. But a McCain spokesman noted the Navy’s objections to repatriating the remains.

Several sources with knowledge of the situation said McCain blocked the repatriation amendment by objecting to its inclusion in the bill as one of many amendments made in one fell swoop by unanimous consent voice vote. A final vote on the bill is expected later this week.

Although the repatriation provision now is out of the Senate defense bill, it was included in the House-approved defense bill. Snowe plans to keep pressing the issue when the two bills are reconciled, her office said Wednesday.

Collins also has registered support for the repatriation effort.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.