For 150 years, the two Yankee sailors lay entombed in the turret of the USS Monitor, doomed shipmates aboard the sunken Civil War vessel 40 fathoms down and 16 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Their remains were recovered when the turret, literally constructed with a piece of North Adams, was brought to the surface in an amazing feat of marine archaeology and engineering in 2002.
Next month, after a decade of trying to learn their identities, the Navy plans to bury the comrades as unidentified in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The funeral, scheduled for March 8, will mark 40 years of research into the Monitor by the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., and many other organizations.
And it will lay to rest perhaps the last of over 600,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines who perished in the long ago war for the Union. The nation is currently commemorating the sesquicentennial of the war, which ran from 1861 to 1865.
The Monitor is famous for battling the Confederate ship CSS Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack, on March 9, 1862, at Hampton Roads, Va., in history's first fight between ironclad warships.
Among the pieces of armor covering the USS Monitor's turret in the battle were iron plates hewn from pig iron smelted at the North Adams Iron Co. and mined from two locations in the city.
Until March 2012, the only proof of the city's contributions to the Monitor's armor were local stories, a excerpt in the book, "A History of North Adams," published in 1885, and the bronze bas-relief Monitor Monument on West Main Street erected by the state in 1951.
"Today, many communities claim ownership of the Monitor's armor," North Adams Historical Society member Edward Morandi, said during a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads. "People in Richmond say the pig iron was produced there, at the Richmond Iron Works. The present managers of the foundry that made the plates, now Mohawk Hudson Industrial Gateway [in Troy, N.Y.], insist that the pig iron and plates alike were produced in that plant. And really who's to say? Not a whole lot of documentation exists; the construction of the Monitor was cloaked in secrecy and might be described as the Manhattan Project of its day."
But after many years of searching for proof that iron from North Adams was actually used in the construction of the ironclad, Morandi received confirmation last March from Anna Holloway, curator of the USS Monitor Center of the Mariner's Museum.
Holloway wrote in an email: "The story of the Monitor is not the property of any one location -- her story belongs to us all. She is celebrated in Gotheburg, Sweden and Buffalo, N.Y., in Beaufort, N.C. and Baltimore, Md.; in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and London; in Hampton Roads, Va. and in North Adams."
The city's Monitor monument, a 5,000-pound granite memorial with a bronze tablet featuring an artist's rendering of the historic battle, came after Clara M. Beckley, granddaughter or North Adams Iron Co. owner John Adams Beckley, fought for the state to recognize the city's contribution to the Monitor's armor.
Ten months after the Battle of Hampton Roads, the two sailors were aboard the Monitor when it sank in a gale off the North Carolina coast on Dec. 31, 1862. The ship capsized, and settled on the bottom upside down. Most of the 63 crewmen escaped. Sixteen men perished, the bodies of the other 14 were never recovered.
The two unidentified men -- an older sailor, about 35, who walked with a limp, wore a gold ring and always had a pipe clenched between his teeth, and a younger man, about 21, with a broken nose and mismatched shoes -- were trapped in the turret.
More than a century later, their almost complete skeletons were found, one settled on top of the other, amid the tangle of huge guns and debris inside. The turret resides at the Mariners' Museum today.
On March 7, representatives from the Navy and NOAA will escort the remains from the military's Joint Prisoner of War Missing in Action Command in Hawaii, where the bones have undergone study, said Navy spokeswoman Lieut. Lauryn Dempsey. The next day, the sailors will be borne to their graves in two caskets on a horse-drawn caisson during an interment ceremony at 4 p.m.
Washington Post material from Michael E. Ruane was used in this report.
Transcript Digital News Specialist and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau contributed to this report.