RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A century and a half after USS Monitor sank, the interment of two unknown crewmen found in the Civil War ironclad's turret is bringing together people from across the country with distant but powerful ties to those who died aboard.
The ceremony Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington will include Monitor kin who believe the two sailors — whose remains were discovered in 2002 — are their ancestors, despite DNA testing that has failed to make a conclusive link. But the families stress that the interment pays homage to all 16 Union sailors who died when the ship went down, and nearly 100 people from Maine to California are expected to attend.
"When I learned they were going to do a memorial and have the burial at Arlington, it was like, 'I can't miss that,'" said Andy Bryan of Holden, Maine, who will travel with his daughter Margaret to the capital. He said DNA testing found a 50 percent likelihood that Monitor crewman William Bryan, his great-great-great-uncle, was one of the two found in the summer of 2002, when the 150-ton turret was raised from the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, N.C.
"If it's not William Bryan, I'm OK with that," Bryan said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I feel like I should be there."
The same holds true for Diana Rambo of Fresno, Calif. She said her mother, Jane Nicklis Rowland, was told of the ceremony for Monitor crewman Jacob Nicklis a week before her death in December, at age 90. He was Rowland's great-uncle. That, Rambo said, makes the interment especially poignant.
Rambo, too, suspects Nicklis was one of the two in the turret. "We know he was on the ship," she said. "We know he was one of the 16."
Two weeks ago, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the two would probably be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington. He'll speak at the interment. "It's important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course of our modern Navy," he said.
The ceremony is scheduled on the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, which took place on March 8 and 9, 1862. On the second day, the Brooklyn-made Monitor fought the CSS Virginia in the first battle between two ironclads. The Monitor was the Union's answer to the Confederate Virginia, built on the carcass of the U.S. Navy frigate USS Merrimack. The battle of the ironclads ended in a draw.
The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas southeast of Cape Hatteras while under tow by the USS Rhode Island. Dubbed a "cheese box on a raft," the Monitor was not designed for rough water. Sixteen of the Monitor's 62 crew members died. The crew of the Rhode Island was able to rescue about 50 people. Most of the dead were lost at sea. The wreck was discovered in 1973.
Retired Navy Capt. Barbara "Bobbie" Scholley was commanding officer of the team about 40 divers who descended to the Monitor wreck in 2002. The turret was upside down and filled with coal, sand and silt that had hardened into a solid mass. Divers chipped away until the turret could be lifted.
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