At 9:40 pm on the evening of February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbor, an explosion tore apart the USS Maine. The Cuban revolution against Spain was heating up and President McKinley had sent the battleship to protect Americans. The situation was tense, but both the Americans and the Spanish were trying to keep peace, until more than just the quiet night was shattered.
A total of 266 American men lost their lives on the Maine. Most of these, 229 in all, are buried at the Maine Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Only 62 of the 229 were identified. Between the 167 listed as “Unknown” and the ten who were never recovered, many families never got closure.
In the Key West Cemetery, there is an area called the US Navy Plot. Used by the Navy for burials since the Civil War, it is surrounded by an old but well kept wrought iron fence. A pathway leads to the center of the plot, to a flagpole and a memorial. Twenty-seven of the USS Maine dead are buried in the Navy Plot. Here they join the dead from other ships and other wars. When there was nothing to bury, marble plaques have sufficed. Since the Maine was berthed at Key West, the citizens felt a special attachment to her. In 1900, they commissioned the bronze lone oarsman who watches over the graves of known and unknown alike.
Watching the sun set behind the oarsman, one is enveloped not just by peace, but a deep contentment. As if those memorialized here knew that they did their jobs, keeping us save, and they are satisfied.