Earlier in January, the Navy and the Connecticut Air National Guard honored Dan Crowley, a World War 2 U.S. Army Air Corps veteran who fought in the Pacific theater and suffered as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Crowley was awarded an honorary Combat Infantryman Badge and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant for his actions in the Philippines against the Japanese and later as a prisoner of war.
Dan Crowley enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, the modern-day Air Force, in October of 1940 at the age of 18.
At the time, France had fallen to the Nazi onslaught and Great Britain was hard put to defend herself from the German air campaign. Only a few pieces of European land weren’t suffering under the Axis boot.
In the Pacific, Imperial Japan was preparing for war against the US and the rest of the western powers. Pearl Harbor, however, was still a year and some months away.
After initial training, Crowley arrived at the Nichols Field Air Base, in Manila, Philippines, in March 1941.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire struck at Pearl Harbor and immediately afterwards launched a blitzkrieg campaign across the Pacific. The airfield where Crowley was stationed came under heavy air attack, which destroyed several aircraft, all the aircraft hangers, and damaged the base’s infrastructure. Soon thereafter, the Japanese invaded the Philippines.
A few weeks later, Crowley’s unit was shipped to the Bataan Peninsula to defend against the Japanese invasion as part of the Army’s Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment.
The Battle of Bataan lasted for three months (January-April) and ended with the surrendering of the joint US-Filipino forces to the numerically superior Japanese. General Douglas MacArthur, the senior officer on the ground, escaped in the last days of the battle to Australia, where he uttered his famous promise to return.
Crowley wasn’t so lucky. He and few of his comrades escaped to Corregidor, a small island five miles south of Bataan as part of the 4th Marines Regimental Reserve. There, they fought the Japanese against overwhelming odds for an additional month before finally surrendering.
Despite having seen so much action in the past months, Crowley’s greatest challenges lied ahead as a prisoner of war.
He took part in the infamous Bataan Death March, where the Japanese force-marched tens of thousands of US and Filipino prisoners of war for approximately 70 miles under horrific conditions, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
Crowley survived the ordeal and was held at Camp Cabanatuan, which became the place of a hostage rescue mission by a Ranger force later in the war. As the tide of the war turned against Japan, Crowley was shipped to Japan for slave labor in March 1944.
He was finally liberated in September of 1945.