By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2021) -- Army veteran Daniel W. Crowley, who saw combat in the Philippines and was also a prisoner of war, died of natural causes at his home in Simsbury, Connecticut, Sept. 16; he was 99.
Crowley's heroic, wartime efforts were recognized during an event earlier this year at an Air National Guard hangar in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. During the event, Crowley was awarded a Prisoner of War medal and an Army Combat Infantryman Badge; he was also promoted to sergeant.
Gregory J. Slavonic, who was at the time performing the duties of the Navy undersecretary, presented Crowley with the long-delayed honors and recognition.
"I have to say that to be able to do this today is a rare and humbling opportunity for me as the undersecretary of the Navy -- to be able to recognize Dan for his many sacrifices and accomplishments," Slavonic said at the time. "He truly represents members of the greatest generation, who did so much but asked so little from their country. The valor and professionalism demonstrated by you, Dan, has earned you a permanent place in the heart of every American."
A Connecticut native, Crowley joined the Army Air Corps in October 1940 at the age of 18. For his first duty assignment, Crowley was assigned to an aircraft unit on Nichols Field near Manila, the capital of the Philippines. He arrived there in March 1941. At the time, the U.S. was not involved in the world war that had ravaged so many other nations. But, after being stationed in the Philippines for just nine months, things changed dramatically.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On the same day, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, bombing several military airfields. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan, and the Japanese bombed Nichols Field where Crowley was assigned.
Crowley wasn't trained in combat arms, but when the bombs started falling, he and other soldiers had to act. He and members of his unit welded British Lewis machine guns together to form a single, more powerful gun and provided air defense.
The Japanese raid at Nichols Field destroyed all the hangars, most of the aircraft, and other infrastructure. While Crowley and others worked to defend the airfield against the Japanese attacks, their efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful.
On Dec. 24, 1941 -- about 15 days after the Japanese bombed Nichols Field -- Crowley and others sailed about 25 miles across Manila Bay to the Bataan peninsula in the dark of night, leaving their former home abandoned.
By then, the Japanese controlled the airspace over the Philippines, and this meant the island nation depended entirely on ground forces for its defense.
On Bataan, the fighting continued. The soldiers from Nichols Field -- including Crowley -- became part of the U.S. Army's Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment. The regiment was joined in its efforts by the Philippine Scouts, a unit of Filipino soldiers organized by the U.S. Army after the Spanish American War.
During the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan, Crowley and the regiment used hand-to-hand combat to fend off three amphibious landings by the Japanese.
After three and a half months of fighting, it was apparent the Japanese were going to prevail at Bataan. On April 9, 1942, the U.S. leaders on the peninsula surrendered in order to prevent further casualties. As part of the surrender, they ordered troops to move south on the peninsula and congregate in the municipality of Mariveles.
While the U.S. forces had been ordered to surrender, Crowley wasn't in agreement with his leadership.
"The men did not surrender, either on Bataan or on Corregidor," Crowley said. "They were surrendered by their commanding officers to prevent a massacre, which was threatened by the Japanese commander."
Instead of surrendering, Crowley and others made plans to escape the clutches of the Japanese. He and other service members instead swam for Corregidor, another island in the chain.
On Corregidor, which is just off the southern tip of the Bataan peninsula, Crowley and others were met by a Marine Corps unit -- the 4th Marines Regimental Reserves. Crowley and the others who had escaped Bataan fought alongside Marines to keep Corregidor from falling into the hands of the Japanese.
While the Marines, Crowley, and the servicemen who escaped with Crowley continued to fight valiantly on Corregidor, the island fell to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. After that, Crowley and nearly 12,000 other POWs were held on Corregidor at an exposed beach with little water or food and no sanitation.
By the end of the month, Crowley and others were taken by boat from Corregidor to Manila where they were paraded through the city as part of what the Japanese called a "march of shame" on May 25, 1942. Eventually, Crowley was housed as a POW at Camp Cabanatuan.
On Palawan Island, Crowley worked for nearly 18 months to build a runway for the Japanese -- who had provided only hand tools to do the back-breaking work. He was eventually returned to Manila in February 1944, but not everyone who'd gone to Palawan Island was returned.
"[The Japanese] burned alive a hundred-plus Americans on the island of Palawan," Crowley would later say. "The Japanese proved their threat of massacre was not an empty threat. They did proceed to murder about 150 Americans by burning [them] alive with gasoline. They forced them to dig a long ditch ... they were forced into it, and then [the Japanese] poured gasoline on them, and the guards ... they ignited it with torches. Some men actually survived, so we have eyewitness accounts to it."
Back in Manila, Crowley had escaped that death sentence, but the Japanese had other plans for him. To support the Japanese war effort, he was to mine copper as a slave laborer. In March 1944, the Japanese put him on a boat bound for Japan. Prisoners of war who were aboard that boat and others like it would later refer to them as "hell ships" due the conditions on board.
Crowley spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war and slave laborer in Japan.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. detonated a nuclear weapon over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, the U.S. detonated another weapon over the city of Nagasaki. On Sept. 2, 1944, the Japanese signed documents of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Just two days later, Crowley was liberated. After spending some time in a U.S. hospital, he was able to return home to his family in Connecticut.
Crowley was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1946; however, Army records show he had been promoted to sergeant in October 1945, but Crowley never learned of that promotion.
On Jan. 4, 2001, Crowley finally received the chevrons of an Army sergeant -- bringing him into the ranks of the noncommissioned officer corps. Recognizing the years he spent as a prisoner of war in the Philippines and Japan, he was awarded a POW medal. And, finally, in recognition of the armed combat he participated in at Nichols Field, on Bataan and on Corregidor, he was given the Army's Combat Infantryman Badge.