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Battle of Alcatraz

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U.S.P. Alcatraz - May 1946 - Continued

Not knowing the origin of the barrage of gunfire, the marines started bombing D Block with explosives as the cellblock filled with dense smoke. Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard retreated in the utility corridor as the bombing continued. The Marines drilled holes in the ceilings, lowering hand grenades attached to wire and then detonating them. The concussions were fierce and the prisoners in D Block hid behind soaking wet mattresses with little protection. The barrage of gunfire, mortars, and teargas was ceaseless. Water from the broken plumbing started flowing from the tiers and flooding D Block.

Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), made efforts to end the battle. At fifty-six years old, he climbed over the railing of the third tier and lowered himself to the second tier, then dropped onto the floor of D Block. In what seemed to be a valiant move, he started closing the front solid steel doors of the six isolation cells to protect the helpless men. Stroud yelled up to Bergen, explaining that there were no firearms in D Block and that those involved had retreated to another section of the prison. He made it clear that many innocent men would die if they continued to barrage them with gunfire.

After nearly 48 hours of battle, the gunfire ceased. In the violent aftermath, Cretzer, Coy, and Hubbard were killed in the corridor from bullet wounds and shrapnel. The mastermind Coy, was found dead wearing a guard uniform. One officer, William Miller, died from his injuries. A second officer, Harold Stites, was shot and killed during an attempt to regain control of the cell house. Thompson and Shockley were later executed together in the Gas Chamber at San Quentin for their role in the murder of Officer Miller, and Carnes received an additional 99-year sentence.

It would take months before the cellblocks returned to any normalcy and the scars on the cement and cell walls would remain strong reminders until the closure of the prison of the consequences of attempted escape.

* If you would like to read an in-depth historical account of the May 1946, Battle of Alcatraz, consider purchasing Michael Esslinger's book: ALCATRAZ - A Defintive History of the Penitentiary Years. The book features an extensive chronicle of the escape attempt based on interviews with inmates and offciers, and also prison era reports.

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Warden Johnston showed members of the press the cells where the officers were held hostage and then later shot.

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Thompson and Shockley were executed sitting side-by-side in San Quentin's Gas Chamber on December 3, 1948.