July 25, 1942
There came a point in life where a man cared not what others thought.
From the ill-repaired Flag Bridge of the battleship Connecticut, Admiral Rik Van Auken watched the sun rising south of his flagship, just starboard of the bow. On rare summer days the hostile North Atlantic was actually pleasant, almost tranquil. This was among those moments.
“On Connecticut, stand by. Heel to port, heel to port,” said the voice over the General Address circuit.
The battleship’s bow swung from a course of 085 to a course of 215. Admiral Van Auken had chosen to disregard orders to intercept and protect the four-carrier task force about to get underway and to, instead, intercept the troop convoy coming north from La Plata. The choice was his alone.
But fast carriers escorted by destroyers could evade Bismarck, even with full flight decks. Troop transports could not. Admiral Van Auken knew that he was being sent in the wrong direction. The carriers were not that important. The men were.
A Royal Navy officer could disobey orders, at most, once in a career and a lifetime. Both timeframes seemed rather short to Rik Van Auken, and he had not used his one chance. The rising sun warmed the left side of his face as the Connecticut came steady on course 215.
He wiped the sea mist from his monocle and set it back in. The ocean looked, somehow, cozier and more welcoming. He smiled, realizing that more than half of his adult years had been spent upon the waves.
Admiral Van Auken had ordered radio silence. Halifax, Boston, and Newport were not informed regarding the course change.
July 26, 1942
“President Long, a distinct pleasure,” said Admiral Spruance. “It is wonderful to see you again.”
“Ah ahm delaitted to see you as well,” replied President Long, shaking his hand vigorously.
“Raymond,” said General Little, standing tall and offering his hand.
“Malcolm, right?” asked Admiral Spruance, shaking the right hand firmly.
“Right, Raymond, and thank you for remembering,” said Malcolm Little. “Thank you for saving my life.”
Admiral Spruance laughed. “You exaggerate, but you’re welcome.”
“No exaggeration, Raymond.”
“Ray. The Americans were across the Rigolets, they’d destroyed a third of our armor, and our infantry were breaking. I was about to lead a counterattack that was only a delaying action at best when you started dropping death and destruction upon those poor Americans. How did you know to be there? How did fire so accurately? How did you know where to fire?”
Admiral Spruance laughed. “Hold on, Malcolm! That’s three questions! One at a time!”
“I…I apologize, Sir…I…”
“No, Malcolm, no. Let me answer. First, I didn’t know to be there, and I couldn’t have been there at ten knots. I transited at sixteen knots, stressing the plant. But I knew how close the Americans were, and I took the shallow-draft Virginia to the entrance to Lake Borgne, so I could help at the Rigolets if needed, and I sent the cruisers on up the channel to New Orleans. Then I got your message. Accuracy against a fixed target isn’t a problem with heavy naval artillery. Regarding knowing where to shoot, I chose a simple reverse walking barrage based upon your report that you’d lost your side of the Rigolets. I only fired thirty-six shells. What could have gone wrong?”
President Long chuckled.
General Little shook his head. “Ray, you saved us. You completely disrupted their forces across the Rigolets, you destroyed almost all of their small boats, and then you ripped apart their massed artillery, all in three minutes. Yes, the Negro Army gets credit, just as my Negro Battalion got credit at Galveston. But your decisions saved New Orleans.”
“You know what I liked, Malcolm?”
“No, Ray, what?”
“How you and your men took pride in the victory at Galveston and built it into the victory at Little Rock…how you built it into what the Negro Army is today. Who many American soldiers are south of the Rigolets today?”
“None…none, of course, Ray. We drove them back.”
“Drove them back. Untrained Negroes charged the Americans, they threw down their rifles, and your men bayoneted them. How many prisoners, Malcolm?”
“I…I don’t have full reports…”
“None” said President Long, smiling.
“None,” agreed Admiral Spruance. “Your Negroes disemboweled every American who dared to surrender, and the Americans across the water could see it through binoculars. Your legend continues, Malcolm. The Americans are terrified of you and your men. You know, you are a young man, but you have earned your rank as fully as General Forrest, General Patton, or I have. Malcolm, I could never have accomplished what you have at your age. You have earned my utmost respect. It is my privilege to defend this city beside you.”
“I…I don’t know what to say, Sir. I had never dreamed of being given this chance. Thank you.”
“Y’all earned tha chance, son. Ah’ve gahmbled mah nation on yah,” agreed President Long.
“Mister President, why don’t you ever feature General Little or his Negroes on Radio Dixie? I’ve listened for weeks, and even when you interview men of the Negro Army, you choose men from the white units.”
“Ah…Ah don’t believe mah people wanna heah a Negro,” replied President Long.
“Then why not give him his own time on your transmitter here in New Orleans? From what I’ve heard, Malcolm is an exceptional public speaker. Give him the microphone and the air time, even if you call it something different from Radio Dixie. And Malcolm, President Long is right, his audience doesn’t want to hear you—but your people do, they need to know your story, and they would be inspired by your words.”
“I would like that chance,” said Malcolm Little.
President Long nodded. “Ah’ll give yah thaht chahnce, son,” he agreed. “Remembah thaht y’all ahr usin’ mah radio station.”
“Yes Sir, Mister President,” said General Little.
Huey Long smiled. “Ah’ve been blind,” he said. “Ray, thanks. We’ll make this hahppen.”
July 26, 1942
“Chief McGuire,” said Vice Admiral Alden, clearly enough to be heard through the open door in the next office over.
“Yes, Sir,” she answered, two seconds before appearing at the doorway.
“I’ve reviewed all the morning traffic, and I see nothing from the Connecticut. It’s probably a radio issue, but I want to be sure. I’m sending a “personal for” message to Rik Van Auken. I need you to take my dictation.”
A loud thump came from the roof.
“Paratroopers!” said Admiral Alden.
Chief McGuire ran back to her desk.
Four men floated past the windows, their parachutes trailing behind them. Two more loud bangs came from the roof above them.
“Admiral, your gun!” screamed Chief McGuire, lobbing him a holster belt with many rounds of ammunition as well as his service revolver. John Alden caught it. He unsnapped the leather strap and pulled out his pistol. He checked. It was loaded.
A paratrooper on a rappelling wire smashed through a window of the inner office, feet first. John Alden aimed at his head at five-yard range and fired. The American dropped to the floor.
Several more paratroopers floated down past the window to the ground.
The window to the outer office shattered. The sound of a shotgun blast was deafening.
Another American rappelled into the inner office, nearer the desk, nor the door. John Adams fired twice at his torso. Both of the rounds hit the soldier’s lungs. One hit his heart. He went down.
“I broke my shoulder!” said Chief McGuire, coming to the door, crying.
“Under my desk! Go!” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“I don’t know what happened!” said Chief McGuire, running to do what he had ordered.
John Alden went to the outer office long enough to slam closed the bolt lock before returning to his desk. “Are you all right, Roberta?” he asked the woman at his knees.
“Except for my shoulder, yes,” she said, starting to cry.
“Did you fire both barrels of your shotgun?”
“I just pulled the trigger in his face!”
“Then you’re probably right, you broke your shoulder. Stay down.” Vice Admiral Alden took advantage of the lull in the action to reload his revolver.
“I’m scared,” whispered Chief McGuire.
“So am I,” said Vice Admiral Alden, touching her face just once, gently, and pushing back the big chair and kneeling on the floor, trying to offer himself the greatest cover, whether the next American burst through the locked door or a window. He waited.
July 26, 1942
“I don’t think that there would be any problem with that,” said Captain Christopher.
“Very well. Liaison between services is often more challenging,” answered Commander Adams, at his office desk seat. The situation in New Orleans was important on a global level.
Gunfire rang out one story above the two.
“Excuse me, Sir,” said Captain Christopher, taking his mace and walking out the door. Four feet away there was an American soldier. Before the soldier could bring his submachine gun to bear, Captain Christopher had swung his mace and almost torn his head from his neck. There was another soldier right behind him. That soldier had a chance to pull his trigger and to graze Captain Christopher’s left arm before his face was turned to bloody porridge.
Two other Americans appeared at the staircase.
Captain Christopher charged them, swinging his mace.
The first American almost put a bullet through his brain. He did manage to break his enemy’s glasses at the temple. The broken frames and lenses fell to the ground. But he, and they, had not anticipated facing a very strong man in close quarters with a mace.
Samson slew the man who had hit his glasses with a crushing blow to his neck. The man behind him was shot through the eye by Commander Adams, lying on the floor outside his office.
July 26, 1942
Lieutenant Jewell screamed.
“Come with me!” ordered Lieutenant Wilkinson. The sounds of gunfire were everywhere.
The two women stepped outside, looking the other way down the hallway than Commander Adams and Captain Christopher, at the other staircase.
An American paratrooper appeared.
Lieutenant Jewell pulled the trigger on her grease gun. Three bullets hit the American soldier. The rest of the magazine tore apart the hallway, including nine rounds into the ceiling over Channah Jewell’s head. The hammer clicked empty.
Another paratrooper emerged.
With a single shot to his temple from Lieutenant Wilkinson, the soldier dropped.
“Reload!” said Lieutenant Wilkinson.
“Nobody ever told me to be ready to do that!” complained Channah Jewell.
“Go hide in the simulation room,” said Edna Wilkinson. “I’ve got this.”
July 26, 1942
There were four burners on the gas stove. Petty Officer Chiang filled pots upon all of them with thin layers of oil, and he lit the burners full force. He grabbed a big knife in each hand. He waited. The gunfire was loud. Petty Officer Chiang watched the doorway.
July 26, 1942
Captain O’Brien was near the end of his daily run when he saw the low-level drop of paratroopers upon his headquarters. There were guards at both entrances, and the teams inflicted better than one-to-one casualties, but they were overwhelmed by superior numbers.
“August, heel!” ordered Captain O’Brien.
The three-legged Doberman whined, but obeyed.
Captain O’Brien had always jogged in full combat gear. He pulled his Thompson submachinegun from its sling and readied it, chambering a round from its drum magazine. He ran closer, still unnoticed. At about fifty yards, he chose to act.
“August, go!” he commanded.
The Doberman Pinscher raced for the Americans.
Captain O’Brien opened fire. The distraction of an attack dog, not the attack, was all that was required. August raced and danced. He never tried to bite. August and Captain O’Brien went around the Naval War College building twice. By the time that they were done, sixteen American paratroopers were dead.
July 26 1942
Captain Christopher—Samson—was blind without his glasses, but he knew that there were still Americans coming.
He heard a soldier down the staircase. He swung with all of his strength as he dove from his feet. He took a round in his thigh as he crushed a helmet with lethal force. His back stroke caught another American. Seven submachinegun rounds tore into his body.
Samson put his left arm over his blind eyes, protecting his brain as best he could. He swung his mace as hard as he could, walking down the staircase blind.
There was no shortage of targets. The training for elite American forces had dwelt with firearms and hand grenades, not maces. Samson absorbed bullets and crushed skulls down the folded staircase until, finally, his blood loss cost him his consciousness. He collapsed.
The last American paratrooper put his machine pistol to Captain Christopher’s skull just before Commander Adams pulled the trigger and shot him dead with a bullet to the brain.
That was the end.
Thomas B. Adams looked at his gun and his hand as if they were not part of himself, and he despised himself for what he had done.