PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, conducted forensic analysis on remains of two Sailors found in the gun turret of the Civil War-era ironclad ship, USS Monitor who are to be interred March 8 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sixteen Sailors were lost when the Monitor sank Dec. 31, 1862 off Cape Hatteras, N.C. during a storm.
In an attempt to recover the USS Monitor's gun turret in 2002, the remains of the two Sailors were discovered and sent to JPAC for possible identification. Once the remains arrived at JPAC, the mission to identify the two Sailors who lost their lives more than 150 years ago began.
Forensic anthropologist Robert Mann, director of the Forensic Science Academy for JPAC, was assigned to do the skeletal analysis.
"The Monitor Sailors were really very unusual for us; water recoveries first of all are not that common for us," said Mann. "To recover remains from the bottom of the ocean that sat there for 150 years is really phenomenal."
"What I would like people to know is that we're here, and committed to the ideal of bringing home our fallen," stated U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Danang McKay, JPAC command senior enlisted leader. "It doesn't matter if that happened during World War II or it happens in future conflicts, we will always be here. We'll bring you home."
Other JPAC staff members who took part in the identification process included a dentist who analyzed the teeth from the remains, with the intent to cross reference them with any dental records that they might be able to find.
"Our mission is to send out teams," said McKay. "It's a multiphase mission where we do investigations, recovery and identification of fallen warriors from our nations past conflicts."
"There are a lot of challenges when you are trying to identify someone, especially when you're just dealing with skeletal remains. If you think about how you recognize somebody, and how we identify people, they identify them by visual examinations," said Mann. "Look at the face or finger prints, well we don't have finger prints after 150 years. We don't have faces, we have bones and teeth."
One of the challenges faced was the amount of available records from the Civil War-era and when the Monitor sank in 1862.
"We're talking 150 years and from the Civil War. The records are not that good and we don't have the dental x-rays. We don't have DNA samples from everybody missing and family members missing, we don't have all 16 individuals who are missing, this really is a difficult job," explained Mann.
Due to the conditions and elements the remains were exposed to during the last 150 years, Mann and other JPAC staff members were faced with more challenges in their attempts to identify the two Sailors.
The first major step in identifying the Sailors remains was a desalination process, which removed the salt from the bones. The remains were also covered in rust, coal and sediments from the ocean, all of which have to be removed before the identification process can begin. This process alone lasted several months.
Once the bones were cleaned, Mann was able to examine the remains and establish biological profiles of the two Sailors.
"From the bones and teeth, we examine them visually. I can tell the individuals age, their race, their sex, how tall they were, any kind of injuries they may have had during their life time, their oral health and any kind of distinguishing features they may have," said Mann. "Those are the things that can help us identify them."
The biological profiles concluded that the Sailors were both white males, one was 17 to 24 years old; the other was in his 30's. Both Sailors stood about 5 foot 7 inches tall.
With the biological profiles established, Mann was able to create a short list of possible identities based off of the age, race and height of the Sailor's remains, and narrow down the identities by comparing them to the 14 other Sailors.
"We narrowed down the 16 individuals that were missing from the Monitor, down to about six," explained Mann.
Due to the limited number of records and lack of dental x-rays from the Monitor, the next step in attempting to identify the fallen Sailors is through DNA testing. Genealogists have been able to determine possible descendants for 10 families of the 16 missing Sailors.
"What we're going to hope for is we may still find ancestors of the other missing Sailors," said Mann. "If that happens we can get DNA samples from them, then we may be able to exclude the other 15 Sailors, we may end up with a match. We may end up with one or both of these Sailors [identities]."
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Feb. 12 that the remains recovered from the Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, 2013. The date was chosen to honor Monitor's role in the Battle of Hampton Roads 151 years ago.
"The importance of recovering a fallen warrior is to let the nation know that the United States has made a commitment that once we've put someone it harm's way, and they are either missing or killed in action, that we have a resolve to go back and return them back to their families," said McKay.
Although the interment ceremony for the two recovered Sailors will be held in March, the search for their identity will continue.
"We will never give up trying to identify these Sailors," said Mann.
McKay also expressed the importance of JPAC's role to future service members, and their families and to those who are currently serving today.
"It gives the family closure, and I think it gives the war fighter a sense of comfort to know that no matter what happens, the nation has not forgotten them and will return them back home with honor," said McKay.
The Navy will honor Monitor Sailors with a graveside interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of the two unknown Sailors. 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.
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