WASHINGTON — One hundred and fifty years after their Civil War ironclad sank, two unknown sailors from the warship Monitor were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery Friday.
“This may well be the last time we bury Navy personnel who fought in the Civil War at Arlington,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a funeral service. “We do not want their sacrifice, however distant, to be unremembered.”
The burial, with full military honors, came after an unsuccessful effort to identify the sailors, including forensic reconstructions of their faces last year.
The skeletal remains were discovered inside the Union warship’s gun turret after it was raised from the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast in 2002.
While the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii spent years trying to identify the sailors, officials hope a descendant will emerge one day and provide a conclusive DNA match, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The burial came in advance of today’s 151st anniversary of the first battle between ironclads, the Monitor and the Confederate ship Virginia, also known as the Merrimack, in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. The 41/2-hour duel ended in a draw.
The Monitor sank in a New Year’s Eve storm that year. The 16 sailors who died that day will be memorialized on a group marker in the cemetery.
No trace of the other 14 missing crew members has been found, according to NOAA.