The U.S. Air Force is trying to find the relatives of seventy-two U.S. citizens whose bodies were recently disinterred from an Italian cemetery in Libya. The deceased Americans are believed to be family members of U.S. military personnel once stationed at the former Wheelus Air Base outside Tripoli. Seventy of the persons were infants.
Wheelus was originally an Italian airfield, but was captured by Allied forces during World War II. The United States controlled it until 1969, when Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi expelled Americans from Libya.
During the time that the Air Force controlled Wheelus, the U.S. government had no provisions for the return of civilians who died overseas. The Italian military offered the Americans free plots and gravemarkers at their cemetery.
Recently, the cemetery was scheduled undergo renovations that would have covered up the American graves. The United States, with the cooperation of the Libyan government, undertook a two-week recovery project in order to repatriate the bodies. The bodies have been taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Air Force spokesmen say that all the babies and two adults have been identified, but that relatives have not been located and notified.
The persons died between 1958 and 1969.
Persons who believe they are related to one of these deceased should call the Air Force Mortuary Office in San Antonio at 1-800-531-5803.
Information from U.S. Air Force press release, 21 May 2007.