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Ninjapacman

To Die On Your Feet

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I wrote this one-shot on a random idea in an afternoon.  I was originally planning to put it in my one-shots thread, but after reading it, I feel it deserves its own thread.  Please, enjoy and give me your comments and criticisms!

Convoy UT 23

April 8th, 1944

 

As I looked out at the flag waving idly on the bow of the SS McHenry Victory, I found myself wondering just how much longer this war would go on.  Despite their power when they appeared nearly five years ago, the Morgana threat to shipping had dwindled, merely becoming a nuisance.  They now focused their efforts on warships, leaving us convoy sailors unmolested and thankful. To me it seemed like the last dying efforts of a beaten enemy.

The convoy sailed lazily through the surprisingly calm waters of the North Atlantic.  At a leisurely 10 knots it would be a few days before the twenty-four ships and six escorts reached the shores of England.  This was the third troop convoy I’d been on, and the largest. In previous convoys we had sailed, there had only been minor submarine action. Chased off by escorts, it was never a real threat.  A torpedo had crossed our bow once, but all in all it was a mostly boring duty.

The voice of the captain drove me out of my wondering while the chilly North Atlantic breeze rolled over the deck.  “How are the seas, Marty?” The Captain Key asked, as usual. “Sleeping like a baby.” I replied, almost as lazily as the ocean.  It was rare that the North Atlantic was this calm, so I was eager to enjoy it while the weather kept.

The skipper smiled and nodded, acknowledging my answer.  I always wondered why he asked me that each day. He’d clearly been a sailor for many years before he joined the Merchant Marine.  I’d never asked, but he seemed like the kind of man who lived more on the ocean than on land. The rest of the crew had taken bets on whether he’d been in the Navy proper, but the scuttlebutt was that his father had been taking him fishing since he was in diapers.  I’d even heard that as a baby he’d fallen out of his father’s fishing boat in a storm, but braved the waves and swam right back.

It was obviously a tall tale, but somehow, looking at him, I could imagine that he’d really done it.  So it was all the more boggling that he trusted me for the weather more than his own judgement. Maybe he was just looking for a second opinion, but the way he asked always gave me the impression that he was proud of my ability to judge the waves.  He had a habit of inspiring confidence in his crew like that.

“Steady as she goes then, Marty.” He ordered nonchalantly, merely following up on his question.  “Aye Cap’n.” I replied, glad that he was giving the crew a day of rest while the seas were calm. Being in the port head of the convoy, we were the closest ship to the escort destroyer USS Scott.  They sailed about 3000 yards off our port, but even at that range we could see that they were relaxing just as much as we were.

The ship barely even rolled up and down as we sailed over the smooth waters.  With the weather clear, and the day free, I nodded to the Captain to signal my departure, and stepped off the bridge. I’d been on the bridge since the early morning and hadn’t gotten anything to eat in hours, so the mess was going to be my first stop. The ship was quiet as I made my way down to the galley, as most of the men were either sleeping, or up on the deck; they were taking in the sun while it lasted.

The smell of ships’ gruel assaulted my nostrils.  Whatever the kitchen was cooking up today was as miserable as usual, just the way I liked it.  It sort of made me feel at home, in a way. Even if I had asked, I think it’s probably better that I didn’t know what was in that meal.  It had an odd grainy texture, and an even worse salty, almost sour taste that didn’t belong in anything that looked like porridge.

I ate quickly, grumbling the whole while, and as I finished the cook asked “Hey, Marty, can you tell Poseidon to hit us a little harder?  The rocking helps me mix the beans in!” I raised an eyebrow with concern. I hadn’t noticed any beans in it. Nonetheless I chuckled, and responded;  “If you feed Poseidon some of that, I’m sure he’ll smack you real good, Moe.” Moe held a ladle out aggressively at me as he laughed.

“You keep talking about my food like that and I’ll smack you real good, Marty.”  With the last laugh, I stepped out of the kitchen, letting him return to his work.  As I was about to head back to my bunk, the Captain’s voice rang out over the 1MC. “Chief Mate to the Bridge.  Chief Mate to the Bridge.”
I sighed, letting my lethargy get the better of me.  I trudged my way back up to the bridge, unconcerned until I looked out the windows.  A light purple mist had swept across the ocean, coating the waves. Looking out to port I could see the USS Scott had begun to close in, keeping in sight range of the convoy, even as the new mists rolled in.

An oddly warm shiver ran down my spine.  It gave me the jitters. There was something very unsettling about the new mist.  Captain Key placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. Anticipating his question, I said; “The seas are waking up, Cap’n.”

Once again, he nodded to acknowledge my assessment.  Without waiting for command from the Convoy lead, he said “Ahead full.”  With an ‘Aye Cap’n!’ the helmsman complied. I took up the 1MC and with another silent, but reassuring nod from the Captain I called out to the ship.  “General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations.” Within seconds the deck ahead of us was alive with activity.

Everyone was making their way to their posts, manning the meager armament of our cargo ship.  The one 5-inch gun on the stern and its 3-inch counterpart on the bow were fully crewed in seconds, and only a minute or two later, all of our eight 20mm anti-aircraft guns were manned.  I didn’t expect any of them to be much use in a fight, but it was better than nothing. At the very least we had a knife to bring to the gunfight.

Suddenly one of our signalmen called out.  “Message from Scott!  The Prescott has been hit by a torpedo!  So have three of the convoy ships on the right flank!”  My eyes widened with shock. The Prescott was one of the starboard escorts.  That left us with a total of 5 escorts, and apparently a submarine attacking us.  With any luck, it was just the one and they’d leave us alone after the first attack.

It was just my luck that the next message we received was: “Multiple submarine contacts starboard of the convoy!  Kimball, McDonnell, and Ewell are engaging!”  With the revelation that it was a wolf pack, our chances of driving them off completely fell drastically.  With three of our escorts pulled away from the convoy, that left only the USS Scott off our port beam and the USS Jackson a few thousand yards behind it.

Soon the call we were expecting came in, and all the other convoy ships accelerated with us, bringing up steam as best they could.  The lead convoy ship called a gentle turn to port to bring the rest of the convoy away from the submarine engagement. Despite the action happening only a few miles to our starboard quarter, we were left unmolested.

A dense curtain of anticipation draped over the crew awaiting the time when a submarine would come for us as well.  All eyes were on the surprisingly still calm seas, watching for the torpedo that would spell the end of our ship. So it caught us all by surprise when shots splashed off the Starboard bow.  

They were at least 400 yards out; It was a long miss, but nonetheless it woke us all up.  The lookouts on the mainmast called out, “Five ships, 10,000 yards, approaching on port beam!”

It suddenly dawned on me that we’d been caught in a hammer and anvil.  The submarines had been a distraction for our escorts and it had worked.  Without missing a beat, Captain Key’s voice echoed calmly through the bridge.  “Signal the Kernstown Victory.  She’s now Port Column Lead.  Ahead flank, rudder hard to port.”  I shot him a concerned look, stunned by his order.  “But, Cap’n, that’s towards the enemy! We’re a Cargo ship!”
There was a determined, yet oddly comforting tone to his voice as he responded.  “There’s more than twenty ships in this convoy carrying troops. That’s well over ten thousand men, most of whom can’t swim.  The only thing between those enemy ships and the lives of every one of those men are two destroyers. The least we can do is help give those destroyers a fighting chance.”

With that, I swallowed my pride and my fear.  Despite the light shaking in my voice, I repeated the Captain’s orders.  Just when I had finished, the Captain gave me another order. “If we want to make them work, we’re going to need at least twenty three knots.”  Once again I was left baffled by his absurd requirements. “Sir, this ship is only rated for seventeen at the most. We’re not making twenty three knots.”

The Captain shook his head, a fatherly smile crossing his face.  “We’ll make twenty three knots. We’ve treated her well enough so far.  She’ll give it to us.” I was speechless, my mouth agape as I tried to figure out how to question his ramblings, when it hit me.  He was referring to the ship’s spirit, or as they’ve come to be known, the belles. When the Morgana appeared nearly five years ago, so did the belles, manifesting in our warships to fight the mysterious threat.

So far though, they had only appeared on warships, which reminded me of another crucial danger in our situation.  Only ships with Belles stood a fighting chance against the Morgana. Luckily our escorts Scott and Jackson had them, but as a cargo ship, it was impossible for us.  We’d get blasted to the bottom on the first shot. The Captain was talking about a girl who didn’t exist.

I lost my composure.  “Dammit Cap’n! I was ready to follow you so far, but we don’t have a belle!  We’re a damn cargo ship. A whale surrounded by sharks. We’re going to get chewed up out there, and there won’t be a damn thing we can do about it!”  I brought up the 1MC to belay the captain’s orders.

The captain was a monster of a man; Tall as a grizzly bear, hairy, and weathered, like most older sailors.  He’d been through many storms in his time, and he looked like he’d be willing to sock Poseidon in the nose given the chance.  But when he laid his calloused hand on my head, it was relaxing and encouraging. It stopped me before I could call the belay, and there was no malice at all towards my insubordination when he said “All ships have a belle, Marty.  Some are just more shy than others.”

Despite his encouragement, my heart plummeted as his sentence was punctuated by a low whistle.  While I had been busy debating the Captain, the enemy had been busy finding the range. I caught a glimpse of Captain Key as I braced for impact, his grizzled old face staring confidently through the bridge windows.

A sharp clang and an echoing ring accompanied a light vibration that shook my feet, but nothing more.  As I opened my eyes, the skipper was smiling at me, a hearty chuckle on the corners of his lips. With an almost bubbly cheeriness the old man patted me hard on the back.  “I think that was an 8-inch shell, Marty. It just bounced off of a half-inch of armor. If you want to tell her again that she doesn’t exist, go ahead.”

I couldn’t believe it.  The skipper, our Captain Key, was laughing.  It was an utterly alien experience to me, but somehow invigorating.  I took a deep breath and radioed the engine room. “I want all available steam!  Get us going as fast as you can! The skipper wants no less than twenty three knots!”  As I said it, I felt the deck under me rumble as the engines roared to life. I looked out over the bow once more and white waves began to wash out to either side from the prow of the ship, cutting through the water.  Our formerly lazy flag whipped proudly above the bow, invigorated by the new wind as we picked up speed.

While I’d been arguing with the captain, the rest of the convoy hadn’t been idle.  Kernstown Victory had taken our place in the column, and the entire convoy had turned to starboard once again, steaming away from the second threat as fast as they could.  Scott and Jackson ahead of us had started to make combat speed, and all ten of their 5-inch guns had roared to life, pouring fire on two of the unfortunate enemy ships.

Unfortunately, I could now see the enemy from where I was on the bridge.  They were in a deadly close range, probably no more than 8000 yards. One of the observers handed me his binoculars, and through them I could see what the enemy ships were.  They were hard to identify, but two of them were almost pristine, eerily empty larger ships, laden with four big double turrets, likely the 8-inch guns the Captain had mentioned.

The other three enemy ships were smaller, and looked very similar to our own destroyer escorts.  Unlike our destroyers, however, I could make out ugly black tendrils and patches of what looked like purple and black rust staining their superstructure and hull.  They fired back aggressively at our destroyers, scoring no hits, but forcing our escorts to take evasive actions.

Despite the excess speed I felt us making, we were falling behind the battle.  Our escorts were getting close to the enemy, and the enemy was getting closer to them.  There wasn’t anything we could do to help them as far out as we were. Looking to the Captain for guidance, I could see he had already made his decision.  “Fire on the foremost heavy cruiser.”

It wasn’t a second after I relayed the order that our fore 3-inch gun was the first of our weapons to report in the fight.  By the time the round reached the enemy, another shell was already out of the barrel. Both of the first rounds missed short, but the gunners began to inch our shots toward the advancing heavy cruiser.

As one of the enemy destroyers’ superstructure burst into flames and turned away from the battle due to the consistent fire of Scott, both enemy heavy cruisers turned their attention to our escorts.  Even without binoculars I could easily see the flash as the 8-inch cannons fired.  The shots missed, but splashed close in the water next to Scott.  I knew their next salvo would be even closer.

Scott made sharp maneuvers to avoid incoming fire, and Jackson advanced ahead of us.  Both of them had turned to port, and the enemies followed their path, charging straight for the escorts.  The Captain smiled as he watched, and I realized what he had, that as we turned to follow the engagement, we were sailing in the opposite direction of the convoy.  The two escorts were drawing the Morgana warships as far away from the allied troopships as they could.

Suddenly one of the enemy destroyers broke off from their group and began to make a beeline towards McHenry Victory.  “Maximum left rudder.  Bring all guns to bear on that destroyer.”  As we turned to cross the enemy T, I heard the sharper bark of the 5-inch gun on our stern, sheltered until now, join the drumming of our bow’s 3-inch gun.

As the enemy destroyer closed in, she released a salvo from her forward turret that sailed over the bridge and fell 200 yards past us.  The return shots from both of our guns fell short by contrast, but closed in towards the enemy’s bow. After one more missed salvo from them, our 3-inch gun scored a hit, punching into the face of their forward turret, but seeming to do little damage.  A second later, the 5-inch gun behind me shouted its contest to the forward counterpart, and I watched the shot soar through the air. It landed smack on the enemy bridge and detonated, blasting a hole on the port side.

I nearly shouted with pride as I watched the destroyer begin to shift its bow, turning to starboard and breaking off its charge against our beam.  Writing it off for now, I looked towards our destroyers to see how they were fairing. Unfortunately, it looked like Scott had taken a bad hit.  Smoke was rising from fires on her stern, and she had turned back around towards us.  A heavy cruiser was chasing her down, but the remaining heavy cruiser and destroyer had their attention completely focused on Jackson.  Dodging and weaving, Jackson made a valiant flight through the enemy fire, and the bow of the heavy cruiser chasing her suddenly exploded.

No doubt she’d launched torpedoes against the enemy.  I threw out my fist in excitement shouting a victory cry for the Jackson, when suddenly the Captain caught me and pulled me like a ragdoll towards the port side of the bridge.  A blinding flash and deafening crack shattered the space behind me, where I’d been standing moments before.  

The starboard bridge wing had been hit, and fragments had been launched throughout the bridge.  As I regained my sight and hearing, I realized I’d been knocked on my rear. I looked over myself and found that I hadn’t been injured, but Captain Key was bleeding from several small shrapnel wounds.  His right shoulder seemed to have a chunk missing from the top causing his right arm to hang limply at his side.

There’d been an observer on the starboard bridge wing, but all that was there now was a burnt shoe with a hole in it and torn, jagged strips of hot metal.  Despite his injury, the skipper called out in a commanding voice. “Rudder fifteen degrees starboard!” Seeing him shrug off his bleeding arm, I picked myself up and repeated the order.  The helm quickly complied, and the McHenry shifted under us, leaning to port as it made the sharp turn.  

A whistle and splash denoted the destroyer’s next salvo, landing where we would have been if we hadn’t turned.  “Rudder twenty degrees port!” The Captain called next. The ship’s hull groaned below us as it made the sudden drastic shift.  As the engines reverberated below me, sending more power through the ship then they ever should have, and the ship held together through maneuvers that strained it far more than it was ever designed to handle, I finally placed my bet on where the captain had come from.

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he came from a warship.  He was fighting this battle like he’d been here hundreds of times, with an overwhelming calm and understanding.  He looked at me finally, checking if I was alright now that we were making evasive maneuvers, and I saw in his eyes that this was where he was meant to be, in the thickest fighting a man could ever endure.  The distant but clear blast of gunnery snapped my attention to the port side of the ship, where I could clearly see the damaged destroyer making their way towards us once more. In my absence of attention, we’d hit them twice more, and there was a small hole with a fire shimmering just behind their bridge.

They were returning the favor though, and their latest salvo saw two shells slam into the side of the ship, high on the port hull.  One of them seemed to do little damage at first glance, but I could see the deck in the center of the ship bulging up, dented by the internal explosion.  The second blasted one of our forward cranes out of its mount, and it crashed onto the deck, half of it hanging over the port side.

Suddenly, the air was filled with a heavy thumping as our 20mm anti-aircraft guns opened up on the destroyer a mere 1500 yards off our port side.  Their tracers carved lines over the water between us as they raked the superstructure of the enemy ship, opening holes and cutting away steel in the misshapen enemy vessel.  The enemy’s own guns were not silent, however, and another salvo found its mark.

At such a close range it was devastating.  I watched a 20mm AA crew on the bow get blasted away as an enemy high explosive shell slammed into the deck inches below their mount.  Another shell found its way into the hull, detonating high in one of our cargo bays. With a sharp crack and a guttural creaking the mainmast with the lookouts still on it began to break free of the damaged deck, and like a felled tree, collapsed back along the length of the ship, breaking on the superstructure and leaving a long V-shaped dent in the ceiling of the bridge.

The third shell detonated in the middle of the superstructure on the port side.  It held, but fragments punched up into the bridge. White hot pain seared through my foot, and I yelped from the sudden agony, leaning on the bulkhead along the back wall.  I looked down to see a hole clean through my left foot. I was obviously missing a few toes. With the help of the bulkhead though, still I stood, and watched through the shattered front windows as our 3 inch gun fired again and again, each time shaking the flag that flew proudly ahead of it.

Suddenly Moe ran into the bridge, covered with blood.  Before I could say anything he cut me off. “It’s not mine.  Now shut up or I’ll gag you with my gruel.” He took out a roll of bandages and scissors, and attempted to treat the captain’s shoulder.  The skipper shook his head though, and waved Moe off, pointing him instead to me. With a deep breath, the cook nodded and started to cut away my shoe so he could wrap my wound.  I couldn’t bring myself to protest, and instead focused on the battle, and on the enemy destroyer half a mile off our beam, in deadly struggle with us.

Fire roared once more from the forward gun turret of the enemy destroyer, and I braced again for impact, but our ship wasn’t hit at all.  I cast my eyes across the narrow sea to the enemy destroyer and watched as a salvo of 5-inch shells impacted its bow, followed by secondary explosions which nearly tore the bow clean off.  Looking ahead I saw the Scott’s guns flash as it fired another salvo at our adversary, which scored a couple raking hits amidships, lighting fires and causing large secondary detonations.

The enemy destroyer fell dead in the water as fires consumed her superstructure and she began to break up among the waves.  Her guns were silenced, giving us a temporary reprieve from the heat of battle. The Captain didn’t let up, however, as Scott wasn’t the only ship ahead of us.  Despite the fact that she’d managed to put out the fire on her stern, the enemy heavy cruiser was hot on her heels, and angry flashes marked every shot she took at our escort.

“Gentle turn to port.  Switch fire to the heavy cruiser.”  Captain Key ordered with his same calm and collected demeanor.  Dutifully, I conveyed the command through the 1MC, watching proudly as our gunners began making their marks on the much larger enemy vessel.  

Moe had finished treating my wound, and was about to start on the skipper’s shoulder, but stopped as the Captain sighed, breaking the skipper’s usual infallible exterior.  Moe looked just as surprised as I felt. Through the entire battle, Captain Key hadn’t once seemed at all to question his own actions, or the strength of his crew. I dreaded what could have made him hesitate for even a second.  Then, seemingly to the air, he asked in a muffled voice, “Can we sink them?”

Despite any feelings I had about the Captain, the battle, or the strength of our ship, I nearly cried at what I saw.  I simply stood there, jaw hanging, as before us appeared a shimmering girl. She wore an old blue uniform, probably army, and a red and white striped garrison cap.  There were several holes in her uniform, and her left arm hung broken above the elbow. Her right eye was shut, and caked in blood, which continued to drip down her glowing rosy cheeks.  But the most important thing about her, what stood out most prominently, was that despite her injuries, she wore the single widest, proudest, most defiant smile I had ever seen. Her grin drew every ounce of power out of me, making the hole in my foot seem trivial, and the enemies ahead seem like the only path we could take.

She rested her good hand on the Captain’s chest.  “I’m not Lady Chesapeake… but I’ll be damned to the bottom of the ocean before I ever fall to my knees in surrender.”  The captain amicably nodded, and as our 3 and 5-inch shells found their marks on the enemy superstructure, they did little damage, but our spirits were bolstered too far to stop.  I’d heard the name Chesapeake somewhere before, but the thought was too far from my mind at the time.

As the Scott passed a mere hundred yards away on our Starboard side, the deck was flush with activity.  I could see where the fire had been. Her two rearmost gun turrets had been replaced with a gaping hole, smoke still belching from it.  Several holes dotted her waterline as well and she limped along, low in the water. There was a deep gash where an 8-inch armor piercing shell had raked from aft to fore, from the rear deckhouse to the forward stack.  It had detonated high on the side, leaving an opening to the innards of the ship, where bodies of the dead and wounded were being piled.

Still as she passed, I watched something indescribable.  Every man on the Scott’s deck who could do so stood at attention and clearly saluted the McHenry.  Even a brunette girl standing on the bridge, her side soaked in blood and missing her right hand, saluted our meager cargo ship with her left.

Only 1000 yards ahead of us now off the starboard bow was that enemy heavy cruiser.  Knowing our job, all of our starboard 20mm guns opened up once again, rattling away their defiance to the enemy.  Our 5-inch gun had placed several hits on her superstructure, even blasting apart one of their rangefinders. The 3-inch gun ahead of me was starting to glow red from the incessant fire.  

Finally, I let out an unintentional shout of glee as she turned her guns from the Scott, settling those 8 inch batteries on us.  Despite the short range, we were too tall too slip under their guns.

At such close range, I felt the shock of the enemy guns firing.  Their flash reflected like the sun off the sea in front of our ship, and the roar shook the deck below my feet.  The two high explosive shells were devastating.

The first punched through our bow and detonated inside, blasting the cargo hold completely open, and opening a hole in the starboard side of our ship.  The second landed at the base of the faithful 3-inch gun mount, and through the smoke, the gun and its crew were nowhere to be seen, leaving only a burning hole in their place.  Twisted and torn metal lined the hole where the gun mount had been moments before.

The 20mm crews on either side of the gun mount had taken heavy shrapnel, but both had survivors.  Without missing a beat I watched Moe run off the bridge. My eyes wandered off over the port bow, where I saw a twisted and mutilated ship, with a heavily damaged superstructure.  

It took me a second to identify it, but I realized it was the first enemy destroyer that had been turned away, before we’d even joined the fight.  They’d returned for revenge on the Scott.  I saw a small splash off the side of the enemy destroyer, and without thinking, I shouted “Rudder Hard port!  Reverse Course!”

Without an instant’s pause, the ship listed hard to starboard, taking in water through shell holes as it made a full 180 degree turn in the minimum turning circle.  Now Scott was limping along off to our port side, and approaching it rapidly from our starboard quarter were two white streaks of bubbles in the water.  

The Captain nodded with approval, and locked eyes with the shimmering lady.  She seemed to understand him, and the engines rumbled pumping out as much power as they could and more.

The deck violently shook once more as two more 8-inch shells detonated on our stern.  The girl’s right ankle burst, and for a second she stumbled, but Captain Key caught her.  Similarly, both her hands were now mangled, dripping thick streams of blood to the floor, which seeped into the shrapnel holes from the destroyer’s attack.

An unfamiliar silence caught my attention, and I realized that now the 5-inch battery had ceased firing as well.  Only the occasional chatter of the 20mm crews broke the silence, but it felt like a part of me was lost, never to be found again.

Off to starboard, I watched the sundered destroyer come under fire from the apparently successful Jackson, returning to our rescue.  On a whim, I saluted in their direction. I knew they couldn’t see me from that range, but I didn’t care.

I took a chance to break my eyes from the torpedo streaks and the enemy destroyer to look out over the bow, and I saw Moe tending dutifully to the injured men in the forward AA crews.  Satisfied, I almost didn’t see the streaks approaching again out of the corner of my eyes.

Finally as they reached us, I felt McHenry Victory lifted out of the water by the colossal blasts.  One hit the starboard stern, and the other the bow, sending a column of water into the sky.  The center of the ship under me seemed to buckle and drop as the fore and aft rose, and I heard a sickening snap.  

Blood began seeping down the back of the girl’s uniform, and both her legs seemed to turn to jelly, but still the Captain held her up so she could stand tall.  I could still see her defiant smirk, not a smidgen less resolute than when I first laid eyes on it. Out of his coat pocket, the skipper took a newspaper clipping and handed it to me.

“I won’t apologize for what I’ve done to us.”  The Captain stated morbidly.

I shook my head in response.  “You’d only need to apologize if you hadn’t done it, sir.” I looked down at the newspaper clipping, reading what wasn’t soaked in blood.

Hero Ship Sinks! Only 3 Survivors!” I finally remembered where I’d heard of Chesapeake before.  She was a light cruiser, two years ago, who fought valiantly to ward off a Morgana squadron from several other crippled escort ships.  Much of the short article was unreadable, but at the end of it, a sentence stood out. “Commander Key Discharged, his story on page 8…

More powerful detonations rang out as secondary explosions shook the bow and stern.  The McHenry took on an ever-increasing list to starboard, and out of the corner of my eye, I watched the Scott release torpedoes on the enemy cruiser whose attention we still held.

I couldn’t tell if the detonations that came next were from us or the enemy, as the McHenry Victory listed finally to 90 degrees and the bridge impacted the water. As water filled the open room, I could see that it was laden with slicks of oil and blood, mixing together in a mess in the salty waves.

The helmsman was next to me, smiling brightly as if he’s just won the greatest award of his life.  “We made twenty-five!” He declared with that silly grin. I couldn’t help but smile with him as I looked around the rapidly filling bridge.  

The captain and the girl were nowhere to be seen, probably having sunk beneath the waves.  As the sinking ship dragged me below, and I drew in a lungful of water, I looked up through the shattered bridge windows and saw the damnedest thing.

The burning water illuminated the last part of the ship above the waves.  The bow stood proudly out of the water, the battered and shell-shredded flag waving proudly at its point.  Finally, my fight ended, as SS McHenry Victory gave her final triumphant shout, a detonation that could be heard for miles around.






 

Baltimore Tribune

April 25th, 1944

 

READ ALL ABOUT IT!  HERO SHIP SAVES CONVOY!  



On the afternoon of the 15th of this month, a battered and bruised squadron of destroyers returned to their home port.  They had seen action against the Morganas in a devious attack en route to Britain. These six ships return victorious, two of them having suffered heavy damage, and one sporting only minor wounds.  All but six of the convoy’s forty-three transport ships made it to Britain on the 21st of this month, carrying precious and invaluable cargo for the war effort. Surprisingly, one of the damaged destroyers brings with it a second flag, tattered, torn, and slightly singed.  It is the flag of one of the cargo ships, by the name of SS McHenry Victory which they claim saved hundreds if not thousands of lives by plunging themselves into the fray.  The SS McHenry Victory itself was lost with all hands, but the flag remained floating on the water, and was retrieved as the warships searched for survivors.  The War Shipping Administration has seen fit to award the the SS McHenry Victory and its crew the Gallant Ship Citation and The Distinguished Service Medal.  The Award Ceremony will take place later this week in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I admit I had strange liquid coming out of my eyes by the end. A truly worthy victory cry.

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