WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. – More than 75 years after the conclusion of World War II, one Connecticut veteran officially received a promotion and medals he earned while serving in the Pacific Theater during a ceremony at Bradley Air National Guard Base, Jan. 4, 2021.
At the age of 18, on Oct. 7, 1940, Dan Crowley enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps out of Hartford, Connecticut. During his tour of duty, Crowley would participate in the defense of the Philippines, including the Battle of Corregidor, the United States’ last stand against Japanese forces after the infamous Battle of Bataan, and survive nearly four years as a prisoner of war.
After a review of Crowley’s records, the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command learned that he earned a promotion to sergeant and earned the Prisoner of War Medal and Combat Infantry Badge but the orders never made it Crowley before he was honorably discharged from service in 1946.
“The event that is happening here today is nearly 76 years late,” said the Honorable Gregory J. Slavonic, currently performing the duties of Under Secretary of the Navy. “When the Army began digging into Dan’s history and service, they uncovered that Dan was promoted to the rank of sergeant, so today we will promote Dan to the rank of sergeant. In addition, I have the pleasure of presenting him with both the Combat Infantry Badge and the Prisoner of War Medal.”
In March 1941, Crowley was assigned to Nichols Field in Manila. Nine months later, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the field. Crowley and the other Soldiers and Airmen in his unit constructed improvised air defense weapons, welding World War I-era British Lewis light machine guns together in order to create a more powerful weapon against the Japanese planes.
Despite their efforts, Japanese forces destroyed most the planes at the air field and ground forces were evacuated to the Bataan peninsula, abandoning the field and effectively eliminating all allied air support for the islands.
With their defenses reduced to rely only on its ground forces, which had no effective means of resupply or escape, the surviving ground crew and airmen were consolidated into what would become known as the United States Army’s Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment and worked hand-in-hand with Filipino scouts to thwart three Japanese amphibious landings.
Without proper support, the Philippines eventually fell after the Battle of Bataan. Crowley’s unit traveled to the town of Mariveles to surrender, but he and several of his fellow Soldiers and Sailors were not prepared to give up so easily. They hid among the rocks in the breakwater near the shore and, after nightfall, they swam their way across three miles of open, shark-infested water to the island of Corregidor.
On the island, Crowley and the other survivors got rolled up into the 4th Marine Regiment Reserve and made one last defensive stand before the island fell on May 6, 1942. He and 1,200 other U.S. and Filipino warriors were taken captive and transported to a prisoner camp near Manila.
“Grace under fire; calm under pressure; easy words to use in the quietness of this auditorium,” said Slavonic. “It is yet another thing entirely to demonstrate these qualities in the face of a determined enemy. It takes a very special person to continue to persevere through the most haunting of circumstances. It takes certain depth of character to put yourself in harm’s way for your fellow warriors and your country.”
To escape the harsh conditions of the prisoner camp, Crowley volunteered for hard labor, building a Japanese air strip on Palawan Island. He worked, using only hand tools to carve the land, until March when he was loaded onto a Japanese ship and spent the next several weeks in transit to the island of Japan.
Crowley would spend three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war before being liberated on Sept. 4, 1945 and returning to Connecticut.
“Please let me start by saying words cannot express the sincere gratitude our nation and our Army have for your dedicated service and sacrifice during World War II,” said James E. McPherson, Under Secretary of the Army, via letter read by U.S. Navy Capt. Gregory Leland, executive assistant for the Under Secretary of the Navy. “I cannot fathom what you endured during your four years as a prisoner of war in the Pacific. What I do know is that you’re a true American hero, part of the Greatest Generation, and you represent the epitome of courageous and honorable service.”
“As every generation learns, freedom is not free,” said Slavonic. “This is Dan’s story and many others like it remind other service members of the dedication and service displayed by The Greatest Generation. We have an obligation to remember these brave men and women who fought so hard and expected so little from their nation.”