Medal of Honor: Robert E Cox

Robert Cox, Rose Hill Cemetery

Entering Rose Hill Cemetery, I immediately noted the cemetery’s most famous burial – Hedda Hopper – was now marked with a simple sign pointing the way to her grave. Note: more about Hedda can be found here: Hedda Hopper.

I passed her burial location and drove towards the rear of the cemetery. In the far left-hand side of the cemetery, next to one of roadways, I could see a flag standing guard in the area I knew the grave to be located. Stopping near the marked grave, I walked over and read the information on the stone. The tombstone did not record the honor bestowed on the man buried there – it did announce he was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and World War Two. At the foot of the plot, a military plaque noted the importance of the man – Robert Cox was a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Robert Edward Cox was born December 22,1876, the only child of Samuel and Nannie Cox, in the community of St. Albans, West Virginia.

Cox would join the US Navy, eventually rising to Chief Gunner Mate on the battleship USS Missouri. It was here in 1904, Cox’s actions would evidentially be recognized with the Peacetime Medal of Honor. Cox did not receive his Medal of Honor for actions taken during battle, but instead received the honor for heroic actions taken during peacetime.

On April 13, 1904, the USS Missouri was doing target practice near Pensacola, Florida when tragedy struck. When the breech to one of the ship’s guns was opened for reloading, there was a “flare back” – hot gases from the gun barrel were released into the gun torrent. The hot gases set the torrent on fire. The fire set a bag of propellant aflame and the fire quickly spread to the ammunition handling chamber.

Cox along with Gunner’s Mate First Class Charles Schepke, and Chief Gunner’s Mate Mon Monneson worked to keep the fire contained and eventually extinguished. The deadly accident cost the lives of five officers and twenty-eight enlisted men.

On April 14, 1921, Cox, Monneson, and Schepke received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the deadly accident. The citation for his Medal of Honor reads: “For extraordinary heroism on U.S.S. Missouri 13 April 1904. While at target practice off Pensacola, Fla., an accident occurred in the after turret of the Missouri whereby the lives of five officers and 28 men were lost. The ship was in imminent danger of destruction by explosion, and the prompt action of C.G. Cox and two gunners’ mates caused the fire to be brought under control, and the loss of the Missouri, together with her crew, was averted.”

After thirty-eight years in the service, Cox retired in 1926 and moved to Altoona where his family was living. Here he ran a small coal business. Cox died at the Naval Officer’s Hospital in Philadelphia on April 24, 1937 and was returned to Altoona where he rests in Rose Hill Cemetery with his parents.

I finished paying my respects for the bravery he displayed to prevent the fire from destroying the ship as I remembered the other two honored for their bravery and those who lost their lives.

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