Found At Sea, Civil War Sailors Buried In Arlington

Friday, two Civil War sailors were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Host Scott Simon talks with Anna Holloway, curator of the USS Monitor Center in Newport, Va., about the two sailors whose bodies were discovered in the turret of a wrecked ship in 2002.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two American sailors were laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery more than 150 years after they died.

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SIMON: They were part of the crew of the USS Monitor, a celebrated Civil War ship that helped open a new era in naval warfare. The ship was ironclad, powered by steam instead of sails, and supported a rotating gun turret. The Monitor sank in a storm in 1862. Sixteen of 62 men on board went down with their ship. They were thought to be lost forever until 2002. The Monitor was being restored and the remains of two of the sailors were discovered in the turret. We're joined now by historian Anna Holloway. She's curator of the USS Monitor Center in Newport, Virginia. Thank very much for being with us.

ANNA HOLLOWAY: Well, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: What do we know about these two sailors who have finally been buried?

HOLLOWAY: Well, we still don't know their names, and that is one of the ongoing mysteries about these two heroes of the USS Monitor. However, as you mention, 16 men went down with the vessel, so there are 16 possibilities. Now, forensics tells us a little bit about them - their relative heights, their ages and their race - so that does narrow it down a bit.

SIMON: I gather there were some artifacts, very personal artifacts found with the men.

HOLLOWAY: There were quite a few. One of the most interesting, of course, is a gold ring that was worn on the right hand of the older of the two sailors. Now, it had some designs on it but unfortunately no initials. However, we did find several pieces of silverware - spoons, forks, etcetera. - inside the turret. And on those pieces of silverware there were initials or names. And those happened to be the names of four of the 16 who went down with the ship. One of the two, the younger of the two, was wearing mismatched shoes, so that may - I don't know if it'll give us a clue or not.

SIMON: Ms. Holloway, why has it taken 11 years to bury these sailors?

HOLLOWAY: Well, in part, it's because of the search for their identities. That was something that was very important to the Navy and the museum. But at this point, they feel that they have enough DNA and samples that two men can be buried at this point. And I think in years to come we will finally know their names.

SIMON: There are living relatives of the 16 men, yes?

HOLLOWAY: Yes, there are. The interesting thing in all the family members that we have met is that they still feel such a close connection to these men. These men are the legends within their family. And they gathered at Arlington to honor these men, still not knowing if they are in fact related to these two but understanding that these two represent all 16 who went down with the vessel.

SIMON: Anna Holloway is curator of the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Thanks very much for being with us.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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