Seventy-six years after serving in the Pacific, a World War II veteran was honored in an awards ceremony presided over by Under Secretary of the Navy (performing the duties of), Gregory J. Slavonic, at the Bradley International Airport’s Air National Guard hanger in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, Jan. 4.
Daniel Crowley was awarded an honorary Combat Infantryman Badge in recognition of his actions in the Philippines while fighting against the Japanese, as well as a Prisoner of War Medal. Crowley was also promoted to the rank of sergeant, after attaining the rank but never being formally advanced.
“Grace under fire. Calm under pressure. Easy words to use in the quiet of an auditorium. It is another thing entirely to demonstrate these qualities in the face of a determined enemy,” said Slavonic, as he addressed the attendees. “It takes a very special person to continue to persevere through the most daunting of circumstances. It takes a certain depth of character to put yourself into harm’s way for your fellow warriors and for your country.”
Crowley was just 18 when he enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was hoping to “take a long trip somewhere at the expense of our country,” he said. His initial duty station would find him in Manila in March 1941, assigned to Nichols Field.
Nine months later, the Japanese attacked Nichols Field, shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Crowley and his unit participated in an improvised air defense of this location but despite their best efforts, most of the aircraft and Nichols Field were destroyed. The ground crews were soon evacuated and sent to the Bataan Peninsula via boat and train. The air base was abandoned.
The surviving ground crews and airmen were made members of the U.S. Army’s Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment on Bataan. After the Bataan Peninsula was surrendered, Crowley’s unit made its way down to the tip of Bataan and the town of Mariveles to surrender. Refusing to become prisoners, he and a number of Soldiers and Sailors hid among rocks in the breakwater near the shore. At nightfall they made their way through three miles of shark-infested waters to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay by swimming and clinging to lifeboats or debris from various ships bombed or scuttled in Manila Bay and Mariveles Harbor.
On Corregidor, Crowley became part of the 4th Marines Regimental Reserve. These Marines fought until Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942. Crowley, along with nearly 12,000 other POWs, was held at the 92nd Garage Area on Corregidor — an exposed beach with little water or food and no sanitation. Eventually, as prisoners of war (POWs) they were taken by boat to Manila, where they traveled to a forced labor camp.
Ultimately, Crowley would spend three and a half years as a POW, both in the Philippines and Japan, until he was liberated on Sept. 4, 1945, and discharged from the military early the next year.
“It has been a privilege to meet with a veteran that belonged to the Greatest Generation," Slavonic said. "The patriotism displayed by these World War II veterans is immeasurable. Even now, these men and women stand to pay their respects whenever our nation’s flag passes, placing their hands over their hearts or saluting.
“While in this position I have had the pleasure of meeting with veterans and current service members and am always awed and inspired by the integrity, intelligence and commitment that is showcased by these individuals. No matter what uniform you wear or what branch you belong to, we are united as one team and I am confident that we will remain the greatest force for freedom and security the world has ever known.”
Crowley continues to support armed services initiatives, especially with the Sailors aboard USS Bataan. Crowley has been an informal ambassador to the ship, visiting several times and speaking with her crew, inspiring them and sharing his first-hand knowledge of the atrocities of war.
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