READFIELD, Maine — Before 2nd Lieutenant Carl Alexander, a Mainer, took his last breath in 1944 in France, he told medics to turn their attention to someone they could save and gave his men their orders.
This month, it will be up to a Maranacook High School junior Madison Taylor to tell his story. Tuesday, June 6 marks the 73rd anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on D-Day.
Taylor and her teacher, Shane Gower, were chosen as one of 15 student-teacher teams across the nation to take part in the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom program, which is aimed at building understanding among students of the sacrifices of Americans during WWII. The program pays for students to rigorously research a “Silent Hero” who died during the war, and then travel to Normandy to walk in their footsteps.
Taylor’s Silent Hero is 2nd Lieutenant Carl Alexander. Born in 1916 in Vanceboro, his family, including his seven siblings, later relocated to Pittsfield where his father purchased a farm and worked for the railroad. In March 1941, Alexander signed on to join the U.S. Army. Later that year, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into World War II.
Taylor and Gower tracked down Alexander’s remaining family members to get a first-hand account of what he was like.
“I’ll never really get to know him, but having those first hand stories was really helpful,” Taylor said during a recent interview.
Iris “Peg” Bailey, 90, is the youngest and last of Carl Alexander’s siblings. Earlier this year, Taylor sat down with Bailey and her daughter (Carl Alexander’s niece) Jeanne McGowan at their home in Bath. Bailey shared what she remembered of her brother calling him a “wicked tease” but a kindhearted, caring brother.
“It’s a great way to link students with personalized history,” McGowan said of Taylor’s project. “This just makes it so much more real.”
During her visit to Normandy this month, Taylor will read an eulogy at 2nd Lt. Alexander’s graveside. She’ll also walk on the beaches of Normandy and see the sites commemorating the landings. Before flying overseas, she and the other students will have a few days in Washington D.C. to do more research.
Alexander was killed July 13, 1944, in Rennes, a city in northwestern France, a little more than a month after Allied forces stormed the beaches on D-Day.
After Alexander’s platoon had captured a German ammunition dump, he was reorganizing his men for another attack. A shell landed nearby, wounding a fellow officer. Alexander picked the officer up and moved him to safety before sending for a litter squad and continuing to organize. Then a second enemy shell hit, mortally wounding Alexander.
“Realizing his wounds were mortal, he directed aid men to the other officer, gave instructions to his men for continuing the attack, and died a few seconds later,” according to Alexander’s military commendation.
In addition to his family in Pittsfield, Alexander left behind his wife, Evelyn, who he met while at training in Kansas City and brought back to Maine. Evelyn later remarried, left Maine and died in 1990, according to McGowan.
The 1940s were trying for the Alexander family. Carl’s father died of a heart attack shortly before Carl left for the service. His older sister Glennie died of tuberculosis during the war.
He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his sacrifice and bravery. His body was buried at Normandy American Cemetery, along with nearly 9,400 other American soldiers who died during and after the Allied invasion of France.
No one from the Alexander family, aside from one cousin, has been able to make the trip to Normandy to visit Carl Alexander’s grave, McGowan said.
“I’d love to go over there, but it’s not possible anymore,” Bailey said. “I’m just he has been well taken care of over there.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.