A very solemn and long awaited ceremony and welcome home was given to Lt. Thomas Crotty at the Niagara Falls Reserve Air Station, New York recently. Crotty was a United States Coast Guard officer who was captured by the Japanese in the early stages of WWII. He died in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines in 1942.
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they launched their invasion of the Philippines. Coast Guardsman, Lt. Thomas Crotty, was caught up in the desperate retreat of American and Filipino forces down the Bataan Peninsula. The island of Corregidor was the last allied stronghold after the Japanese victory on the Bataan Peninsula. Crotty ended up fighting alongside U.S. Army and Filipino forces in the desperate battle at Corregidor.
When the Americans were finally forced to surrender, he and his fellow American and Filipino soldiers ended up as prisoners in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. He was the first United States Coast Guard POW since the War of 1812 and only one of four Coast Guardsmen held as POWs during WWII.
It is well known that the Japanese POW camps were places of true cruelty. POWs under the Japanese were routinely tortured, beaten. They were routinely denied basic human needs. They were notoriously underfed and even basic medical treatment was held back from them.
Thousands of prisoners in Japanese POW camps succumbed to untreated diseases like dysentery, cholera and other contagions that are due to poor sanitary conditions and bad water. They suffered often from untreated malaria and because they were undernourished, and medical supplies were withheld from them they were unable to survive.
When Crotty succumbed in the POW camp, other POWs buried his body outside the walls of the POW camp, along with others who died. This would happen on a daily basis. We cannot imagine what Lt. Crotty’s days were like as a prisoner under those cruel conditions. If you have read the book, “Unbroken,” by Louis Zamparini about his WWII and POW experiences under the Japanese, or if you’ve seen the movie based on his book, you may have some idea of what Lt. Crotty and his fellow POWs went through in that Japanese POW camp where he died with so many others.
It took the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Agency over a decade to identify Lt. Crotty’s remains. Its effort was helped by the ever-improving scientific research tools that are coming on line with DNA and archeological and genealogical research techniques.
In 1946 the unidentified remains of those who died in that Japanese POW camp and others were moved to the American Cemetery in Manilla, Philippines. But it has only been in the last 15-20 years that the remains of those WWII POW/MIAs have started to be identified and their remaining families located so that they could be repatriated and returned home to their loved ones.
Lt. Crotty, who died 77 years ago in that hell on earth that was a Japanese POW camp, has finally come home to his family in South Buffalo, New York.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 79,000 names of WWII soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen remain on the MIA rolls. Most of those, though, were lost at sea and will never be able to be brought home.
The Veterans Site is thrilled to see that the family of Lt. Thomas Crotty now have him home. They now know where he is and can visit his resting place whenever they wish to do so.
We thank the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for its continuing, diligent and dedicated efforts to find, to identify and to return our POW/MIAs to their country and to their families. It is good for those who serve and for their families to know that this nation is dedicated to the tradition of “leaving no man behind.”
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.