Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bringing them home: Details of services, burial of two USS Monitor crew members

USS Navy photo of Monitor crew
Thursday, on an airport tarmac in suburban Washington, D.C., in a choreographed military display of respect, flag-draped caskets bearing the remains of two men who died on active duty will be taken from a plane to waiting hearses.

Unlike service members who died in Afghanistan, Iraq or other places, no one knows these men, or for that matter, their identities.

They were lost along with 14 of their shipmates, more than 150 years ago, when the ironclad USS Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C. The bodies of the two were found in the Union vessel’s gun turret in 2002.

Years of intense research and forensic analysis thus far have not ascertained their identity, but efforts continue at Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii.

Facial reconstructions of two sailors
The U.S. Navy is providing full honors to the two sailors, expected to be the last seamen from the Civil War whose remains will be located. Burial is scheduled for Friday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery. Members of the public can attend the interment.

"The fact it has been 150 years or two days (since a death) doesn't make any difference,” said Stuart B. McLean, director of ceremonies and special events in Naval District Washington.

Ten families that possibly may be descendants of the sailors will attend. Each family has been assigned a casualty assistance officer.

The Picket this week learned details of events related to the USS Monitor crew interment.


The event at Dulles International Airport in Virginia is called a “dignified transfer of remains.”

The caskets are being carried aboard a commercial flight from Honolulu, home to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), where the bones and teeth were analyzed. Based off those, experts have narrowed down from 16 individuals that were missing from the Monitor to about six who could be the two sailors.

2002 expedition (U.S. Navy)
Media will be on hand to witness the flag-covered caskets being taken from a conveyor attached to the plane. “Hand salute” and other commands will be uttered as the remains are solemnly carried by teams to the two hearses on the tarmac.

"It will be quick, but stirring,” McLean said of the remains transfer.

The remains will be held overnight at an area funeral home.


Descendants of the Monitor crew will attend a luncheon hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

4 p.m., invitation-only funeral service at Fort Myer Memorial Chapel.

Family members, dignitaries and others will attend the non-denominational Christian service. It was determined that the sailors were Christian, McLean told the Picket.

Speakers are Navy Secretary Ray Mabus; Kathryn Sullivan, former astronaut and acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere; and Civil War historian and author James B. McPherson.

Scripture readings and a homily are planned, as well as the singing of the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father.”

About 4:30 p.m.

The caskets will be carried on caissons from the chapel to Arlington National Cemetery. 

Family members and mourners will follow the Army’s Old Guard military escort.

Burial will take place in section 46 of the cemetery, which is between the amphitheater and the USS Maine Mast memorial.

“There’s lot of interest” by members of the public in attending the interment, said McLean, although he could not estimate how many might attend. At least 50 people in period costume will be on hand, but weapons of any kind are not allowed.

Driving to the grave site also is prohibited and the public cannot take part in the funeral procession. Attendees may park in the ANC Welcome Center parking garage and either walk or take, for a fee, the Martz tour tram to the Amphitheater.

Turret recovery (U.S. Navy)
The specific date of the interment was chosen to recognize the Monitor's role in the Battle of Hampton Roads 151 years ago on March 8-9. The Monitor sank off the North Carolina coast on Dec. 31, 1862.

A monument bearing the names of the 16 lost sailors will be erected at a later date, according to McLean.


Forensic experts will continue their efforts to identify the two sailors. Military records from the Civil War aren’t good and there are no dental X-rays, making the task very challenging.

"What I would like people to know is that we're here, and committed to the ideal of bringing home our fallen," says U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Danang McKay, JPAC command senior enlisted leader. "It doesn't matter if that happened during World War II or it happens in future conflicts, we will always be here. We'll bring you home."

The biological profiles concluded that the sailors were both white males, one was 17 to 24 years old; the other was in his 30's. Both stood about 5 foot 7 inches tall.

Forensic anthropologist Robert Mann, director of the Forensic Science Academy for JPAC, in a statement said teams are trying to locate other descendants of other missing Monitor crew members to take DNA samples.

"We will never give up trying to identify these sailors," said Mann.

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