It's been 151 years since the USS Monitor — the U.S. Navy's first iron-clad warship — sank in the Atlantic Ocean near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But the remains of two sailors found in the wreck's turret in 2002 will finally be laid to rest with full military honors this week at Arlington National Cemetery.
For the better part of the past decade, the two sailors have been subjects of a forensic examination by the Navy's POW/MIA accounting team. They've narrowed down their possible identities to six of the 16 who perished when the ship went down in a storm in December 1862. But they still aren't exactly sure who the men were.
You've undoubtedly heard of the USS Monitor and its epic battle with the Merrimack, a steam frigate the Confederate Navy captured, covered with iron plates, and renamed CSS Virginia. The two ships pounded one another relentlessly during the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862. Neither ship managed to sink the other, but the Monitor's commanding officer was blinded by a direct hit to the pilot house.
The two ships only met one other time, and despite the fact that both sides were ready to lauch a full scale iron-clad arms race, the battle again ended in stalemate. The Confederate navy was forced to scuttle CSS Virginia when they retreated from Norfolk, Va. in May, 1862, and the Monitor met its end when someone decided that it was a good idea for the slow, heavy, low-slung ship to help blockaders out in the open ocean. Monitor's deck was only 18 inches above the waterline, so it wasn't long before heavy seas sealed its fate.
The wreck was undiscovered until 1973, but the turret, where the two sailors had been entombed for more than a century, remained at the bottom of the Atlantic until decades later. The Navy said it will continue to examine evidence for clues about who the sailors were, as a few of the six the list was narrowed down to have living relatives.