Unidentified hero comes home after 80 years


By Ryan Berry


GREENVILLE — Hundreds of people lined the procession route from Greenville to Greenmound Cemetery in New Madison for Navy Coxswain Harley E. Alexander’s final ride to his hometown and his resting place. Cox Alexander was MIA (Missing in Action) from June 8, 1944 until earlier this spring when his remains were identified.

Cox Alexander enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 4, 1942 and served as a Coxswain aboard the USS Glennon when it was hit by a mine and other artillery. Alexander was 22 years old when he went missing.

Nearly 80 years to the day that his vessel was hit and he went missing, Cox Alexander returned home. The graveside service at Greenmound Cemetery was attended by several nieces and nephews that survive. All of his brothers and sisters, as well as his parents are deceased. Hundreds of well-wishers filed around the gravesite as the rain and thunder drowned out much of what was being shared under the tent, but they were there to ensure that one of Darke County’s heroes was supported as he was laid to rest. Several presentations were made to the family from the Ohio VFW, Navy, Patriot Guard, and Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted. The Navy Honor Guard escorted the remains from the Hearse to his final resting place and provided a 21-gun salute during the ceremony.

One of the most revealing moments of the service was when the local American Legion Post presented Alexander’s family with his cross that sat in front of Greenmound Cemetery. The cross and the 18 crosses that still stand are monuments to those soldiers that are still missing.

Bill Blue, a nephew, said the family was contacted in 2017 by a geneaologist for the Department of Defense to get DNA from the family. Blue, Jenny McCombs, niece, and Larry Alexander, nephew, volunteered to provide a sample. After providing the DNA sample, they didn’t hear anything again until this past March. They were contacted by a Navy officer and asked if she could discuss Harley with the family. Blue and McCombs met with the Navy in Connersville, Ind.

It was a unanimous decision by the family to bring him back to New Madison. The family was told that Alexander’s remains were found in the bow section of the vessel. He was buried next to his mother.

Blue said that Alexander came from a large family. He had five brothers and three sisters. They were all born between 1914 and 1922. Blue believes Harley was one of her mother’s favorites.

Alexander’s death occurred while in support of the D-Day Invasion off the coast of France, Cox Alexander’s vessel was located approximately two miles offshore from Quinéville, France. The ship tried to maintain its position in a channel that had been swept for mines, while providing fire support to the landing force. At 8:03 a.m., a mine exploded near the stern of Glennon with great force, sending 16 sailors into the water, some thrown as high as 40 feet. Depth charges, gun mounts, and cement buoy anchors were also tossed into the air. Very quickly, the stern began to separate from the aft section and settle, anchoring the ship to the seafloor. General quarters sounded, and a boat was lowered to rescue the 16.

By 9 a.m., a tug was called to try to move the ship. Nearly 200 sailors, including all the wounded and 12 officers, evacuated the ship. The remaining crew, approximately half the ship’s complement, continued salvage operations. After a salvo of artillery rounds from the German guns near Quinéville the final call to abandon ship was made. Glennon’s final casualty total was 25 missing and 38 wounded.

With no further information available on the fate of Cox Alexander, officials determined his remains to be non-recoverable on May 4, 1949, and the status of non-recoverability was declared final on Nov. 30, 1950.

In 1957, pieces of Glennon were hauled to shore by salvagers. A local resident was searching through the larger sections of wreckage and found human remains within the forward portion of the ship. The remains were turned over to American officials and processing determined the remains to be those of at least two individuals, subsequently designated X-9296 and X-9297. After unsuccessful efforts to identify the remains, they were interred on 4 March 1959 in Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium.

In 2021, DPAA researchers began an effort to associate unresolved sailors from the Glennon based on historical documentation of the remains removed from the ship’s wreckage. By August 2022, the Department of Defense and the American Battle Monuments Commission exhumed unknown remains X-9296 and X-9297 from Ardennes American Cemetery for comparison with unaccounted-for sailors from Glennon.

To identify Alexander’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis.

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

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