Interment Ceremony Unites USS Monitor Descendants

Descendants of Sailors who served aboard USS Monitor will gather for a graveside interment ceremony for the remains of two unknown Sailors at Arlington National Cemetery today. The remains were discovered in 2002.

The facial reconstruction of two Sailors whose remains were discovered inside the gun turret of the USS Monitor after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002 are revealed during a ceremony sponsored by the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, March 6, 2012. While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the two Sailors, their identities remain a mystery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette/Released)

The facial reconstruction of two Sailors whose remains were discovered inside the gun turret of the USS Monitor after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002 are revealed during a ceremony sponsored by the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, March 6, 2012. While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the two Sailors, their identities remain a mystery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette/Released)

 

The unknown Sailors were lost along with 14 of their shipmates when Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1862.

All 16 Sailors will be memorialized on a group marker in section 46 of the cemetery, which is between the amphitheater and the USS Maine Mast memorial.

We asked family members to share what the Monitor and the interment ceremony means to them.

In this undated photograph, the crew of USS Monitor stands near the ship's turret after the Battle of Hampton Roads between Monitor and the Confederate navy ironclad CSS Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

In this undated photograph, the crew of USS Monitor stands near the ship’s turret after the Battle of Hampton Roads between Monitor and the Confederate navy ironclad CSS Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)


Cindi Nicklis Neumann, great grandniece of Seaman Jacob Nicklis

As a child, I had little interest in history. To me, it was an exercise in memorizing names and dates, a talent I did not possess. As I grew up, I realized that my interest lay really in the stories of the people behind the dry facts. Little did I know that during my lifetime, a turn of events would make one of these stories become so personal.

In 2009, my husband’s search for genealogical information indicated that my great grandfather’s brother, Jacob Nicklis, died during the Civil War as a Navy seaman. Further research revealed that he had been one of the seamen missing after USS Monitor was lost at sea in 1862. He also discovered that an earlier generation of our family had dealt with this loss and gained their closure by placing a memorial to him with my great grandfather’s remains in a Buffalo cemetery.

When the Navy contacted my husband regarding his research about Jacob and descendants of my great grandfather (Jacob died at age 21 presumably with no offspring so a search for direct descendants seemed moot), we were pleased to provide further family information and DNA samples for matching. Despite modern science, it is still unknown whether the young seaman to whom I am related is one of the two being buried this week.

It is a wonderful testimony to our nation that we care so much about the sacrifices made on our behalf by its military. I have always been proud to know the armed services work diligently to identify personnel from recent actions so their families may gain a sense of closure. However, I was amazed the Navy would go to such lengths to identify the remains of personnel lost not only long ago in service, but also long ago in a family’s lineage.

It is remarkable to be among those who will gather at Arlington National Cemetery to recognize the loss of Jacob Nicklis and the other crew members of USS Monitor. While we inter only two unidentified individuals’ remains this week, we honor the lives and sacrifice of 16 brave souls. Their service to our country over 150 years ago is service worthy of the tribute they are receiving today.


Andrew Bryan, great-great grandnephew of  Yeoman William Bryan

USS Monitor had always been more than a part of history class. It was our family heritage. We knew the story. I knew that my father’s namesake had died for our country while it was trying to find itself. This was personal.

I spent the last few years trying to find out definitively if the older set of remains is William Bryan. In the process, I rediscovered a family that stretches around the world. What a journey this has been! Now, as I await the results of DNA samples from Australia that may prove conclusively that William has been recovered, I wonder if he himself would be happier at sea. I look forward to meeting some of my relatives who will meet in Washington on Friday along with others who share the heritage of a lost love one from Monitor.

In celebrating these lost seamen, the Navy has shown that they will never forget the sacrifices that their service members made. I thank the Navy for the opportunity to bring home the stories of bravery that these men shared as they served our country. This service will perpetuate our stories for many, many more years, and we are all truly grateful.