USS Monitor and USS Minnesota: Connecting the Past with the Present

On Friday, March 8, the Navy will hold a graveside interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of two unknown Sailors recovered from the USS Monitor shipwreck. Ten Sailors from the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Minnesota (SSN 783), the newest Virginia-class submarine (scheduled to be commissioned on Sept. 7, 2013) will attend the ceremony to pay tribute to these Sailors’ service to our nation more than 151 years ago.

 In this blog, Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Randy Reid, PCU Minnesota Chief of the Boat, discusses the remarkable connection between the former USS Minnesota and USS Monitor.

The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at  at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, Nov. 1, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding/Released)

The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, Nov. 1, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding/Released)

 

I am the chief of the boat for the soon-to-be newest Virginia-class submarine in the U.S. Navy, the future USS Minnesota (SSN 783). We are the third ship to bear the name “Minnesota” and we are proud to represent our namesake state. I’m writing this blog because a few of my fellow Sailors, including my commanding officer, Cmdr. John Fancher, and myself are getting the opportunity of a lifetime. We are going to attend and witness the interment of the USS Monitor Sailors into Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, 2013.

Upon hearing of the interment ceremony of the USS Monitor Sailors, I immediately sought the guidance of Cmdr. Fancher and Lt. Cmdr. John Witte, PCU Minnesota’s executive officer. “What if we could get some of our Sailors to attend the interment,” I asked. The three of us quickly discussed the significant history shared by the Monitor and Minnesota and thought that it would be an honor to attend the ceremony. It would also be a great experience for our Sailors. So, with the help of  Commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic and Commander, Submarine Group Two, who both supported the idea and wanted to make this happen, we set out to make this a reality for the members of my crew, realizing the profound link between the two ships.

Master Chief Reid Discusses the Historical Connection Between Minnesota and Monitor

As a Chief in the Navy, (I) constantly strive to teach our Sailors about heritage and history and the importance of both in our modern Navy. So I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to engage my junior shipmates and tell them about the proud legacy of USS Minnesota and her connection with USS Monitor.

Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Minnesota is currently under construction in Newport News, Va., in the area commonly referred to as “Hampton Roads.” Our submarine is located in the same area where our predecessor fought in the American Civil War. The first USS Minnesota was a wooden steam frigate in the U.S. Navy, launched in 1855 and commissioned eighteen months later. The ship served in East Asia for two years before being decommissioned.

She was re-commissioned at the outbreak of the American Civil War and returned to service as the flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. During the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, Minnesota ended up running aground during battle, badly damaging her and inflicting many casualties. On the second day of the battle, USS Monitor engaged CSS Virginia, which was maneuvering to destroy Minnesota, allowing tugs to free Minnesota on the morning of March 10, 1862.

USS Minnesota (BB 22) in 1911. (U.S. Navy photo by U.S. Naval Historical Center)

USS Minnesota (BB 22) in 1911. (U.S. Navy photo by U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Minnesota was repaired and returned to duty, and three years later, she participated in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. Minnesota served until 1898, when she was stricken, beached and burnt to recover her metal fittings and to clear her name for a newly-ordered battleship, USS Minnesota (BB 22), which is known for being a part of “The Great White Fleet.”

So, now that I have given you the history lesson of how Minnesota and Monitor are historically linked, I want to move onto the heritage part. I never thought I would be happy to attend a ceremony such as the one we are going to on Friday, March 8. But, to have my crew, from seaman to commanding officer, attend this ceremony and witness this piece of history is amazing!

We are extremely busy right now while our boat is under construction and could have easily kept our nose to the grind stone, but it’s things like this that require us to stop and take the time for something so important. Military burials are a part of our heritage and forever will be. These men could have possibly been onboard the Monitor while she was defending the first Minnesota during the Civil War, allowing her crew to return home to their families and allowing the ship to continue service in the Navy.

These two men lost their lives at sea doing their jobs of fighting the ship, and now, 151 years later, these Sailors are getting laid to rest with honors in the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. For protecting our fellow Sailors of the first USS Minnesota, I felt it was our duty to attend the interment ceremony for these two Sailors. While these Sailors are not technically our family members, anyone whose profession- past or present- is being a Sailor or protecting our great nation, is as close as a family.

Minnesota Sailors Discuss Their Namesake’s History with USS Monitor