Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Hickam lab to help
ID Civil War

1 skull is found so far
on the USS Monitor,
which sank in 1862

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Army's premier forensic laboratory will try to identify the remains recovered from the Civil War ironclad, the USS Monitor, which sank in 1862 in a big storm off North Carolina.

The Monitor Expedition 2002 is searching for the remains of the four officers and 12 sailors believed to have been in the 150-ton revolving gun turret of the historic warship now filled with silt.

Eric Emery, an anthropologist with the Army's Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base, returned to North Carolina this weekend because additional remains were discovered, Ginger Couden, Army spokeswoman, said. He is described as an expert in underwater recovery.

"He went back to help in mapping the area," Couden said.

When Emery came back to Hawaii on Aug. 7, he brought a skull that was found in the Monitor's turret and turned it over to Tripler Army Medical Center to be X-rayed.

"Predictably, we didn't see any brain matter and no evidence of external trauma," said Lt. Col. Stephen O'Connor, Triple Medical Center staff radiologist, who performed regular X-rays and a CT scan of the 140-year-old skull.

"What we did find was sand and some dense debris that we figured to be marine debris or rust from the decaying ship."

Some front teeth were missing, he said.

O'Connor said the skull was removed from the container and X-rayed in an upside-down position. It remained about half full of water. The CT scan was performed with the skull submerged in ice-cold water to avoid deterioration problems. Both cross-sectional and three-dimensional images were created from the CT scan.

Couden said the skull was returned to the Army laboratory and is being kept in water as attempts are made to stabilize it and remove all traces of salt water.

"Our primary and ultimate goal is to identify this service member and return him to his family," Couden said.

The Monitor Expedition is the final phase of a multiyear effort to recover the wrecked ship, located 20 miles off the coast of North Carolina in the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

The operation is being conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Naval Sea Systems Command, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two and the Mariners' Museum.

The Monitor's turret was taken to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., where it was placed in a 34-foot-wide octagonal holding tank. It will be desalinized and restored over several years before it is put on permanent display in the museum's $30 million USS Monitor Center, set to open in 2007.

The Monitor was launched in 1862 to counter the Virginia, formerly the Union vessel Merrimac. The two ironclads battled for four hours at Hampton Roads, Va., in the first fight between metal-covered vessels.

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