RICHMOND (AP) -- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says the remains of two unknown Union sailors recovered from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.
They could be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War buried at Arlington.
"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 two skeletons and the tattered remains of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union Civil War ironclad in 2002 when its 150-ton turret was raised from the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Conservators of the wreck had the faces of the two sailors reconstructed based on the remains in the longshot bid that someone could identify the sailors who went down with the Monitor 150 years ago. The sailors' identities remain unknown.
Monitor artifacts are on display at the Monitor Center in the Mariners' Museum in Newport News.
Friday's ceremony 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."
On March 8, 1862, the Brooklyn-made Monitor fought the CSS Virginia in the first battle between two ironclads. The Virginia, built on the carcass of the U.S. Navy frigate USS Merrimack, was the Confederate answer to the Union's ironclad ships. The two-day battle 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.