Thus, Dan left for his “adventure” more aware than most 18 year olds that the world was rapidly moving toward war. At the United States Army Supply Base in Brooklyn, untrained and unarmed, he boarded on January 2, 1941 the USAT Leonard Wood that sailed through the Panama Canal to Angel Island off San Francisco. From there, he was transferred to the USAT U.S. Grant. This ship, via Hawaii and Guam, after engine failures, fires and a typhoon, arrived at Manila in the Philippines in March 1941.
Ptv Crowley was assigned to Nichols Field (today’s Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport) near Manila with the 24th Pursuit Group, V Interceptor Command, 17th Pursuit Squadron. For months, there was little do and the enlisted men at the Field remained untrained and their officers unconcerned. The 17th Pursuit Squadron had been sent overseas in October 1940 (arriving December 14, 1940) from Selfridge Field in Michigan without aircraft to fly. Until their planes arrived and were assembled in March 1941, they practiced in outdated Boeing P-26 Peashooters that then constituted the interceptor force at Nichols Field.
New planes arrived in March 1941. These were Seversky P-35s that had been held back from a sale to Sweden (18 June 1940, United States declared an embargo against exporting weapons to any nation other than the United Kingdom.). By late 1941 standards, the P-35s were obsolete. It was too lightly armed and lacked either armor around the cockpit or self-sealing fuel tanks. In addition, the instruments in these aircraft flown were marked in Swedish and calibrated in the metric system. New Curtiss P-40Es “Warhawks” did not arrive until September 1941.
The Japanese attacked Clark Field on December 8th, nine hours after Pearl Harbor. Next they struck Nichols Field along with other air bases on Luzon. Within three days, Japan controlled the air over the Philippines and completely eliminated the U.S. Far East Air Force as an effective defense of Asia.
Crowley participated in an improvised air defense of Nichols with antiquated British Lewis machine guns that were welded together to form more powerful, but still ineffective weapons. Despite their efforts, most of the aircraft and Nichols Field were destroyed. The ground crews were soon evacuated and sent to the Bataan Peninsular via boat and train. The base was abandoned on December 26th.
The surviving ground crews and airmen were made members of the Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment on Bataan. Although designated as Infantry, the U.S. Army refuses to this day to recognize these veterans as such and denies them their Combat Infantry badges. In every way, but name they fought like infantry soldiers. [Mr. Crowley still wants his Infantry Badge.]
On Bataan, Crowley’s unit was joined by the Philippine Scouts who were instrumental in helping them fend off three amphibious landings by the Japanese on the west coast of Bataan, known as the Battle of the Points. The Army Air Corps men on Bataan were armed with only machine guns from their aircraft or WWI Springfield M1903s (a five-round magazine fed, bolt-action service repeating rifle). Crowley had not fired this weapon until combat on Bataan.
After the Bataan Peninsula was surrendered April 9, 1942—the single largest military surrender in American history—his 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 men hide among rocks in the breakwater near the shore. At nightfall they made their way to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay by swimming and clinging to life boats with sailors from various ships bombed or scuttled in Manila Bay and Mariveles Harbor.
On Corregidor, Crowley became part of the 4th Marines Regimental Reserve (China Marines) commanded by Maj. Max Schaeffer. He fought with the Marines a dangerous and desperate shore defense until the island fell on May 6, 1942. His Company commander was the famous University of Tennessee football star Captain Austin Conner “Shifty” Shofner. The Philippines were surrendered on May 8th.
Shofner would become famous later in the war for being one of the very few who escaped from a Japanese POW camp. On April 4, 1943, he and a small group of nine other Americans and two Filipinos escaped their labor camp in the Philippines. These men were able to make to a sympathetic Filipino village and were then rescued by an American sub that took them to Australia. Among the men was William Dyess who told his story to The Chicago Tribune on January 27, 1944, thus revealing to Americans for the first time about the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Shofner returned to combat in 1944 commanding units of the Marine Corps in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa.
On May 25th, he and the nearly 12,000 other POWs who were interned in the 92nd Garage Area—an exposed beach with little water or food and no sanitation—on Corregidor were taken by boat to Manila and paraded through town on what became known as the “March of Shame.” By rail and foot, the POWs traveled on to Camp Cabanatuan. To escape its squalor and despair, Crowley joined 300 POWs in August to build an airstrip on Palawan Island for the Japanese Army. Starvation, beatings, and unworkable conditions prolonged the task.
He and approximately half of the men were returned to Manila in early 1944. Crowley says he feigned insanity to be relieved of the work. The remaining 150 prisoners on Palawan became victims of Tokyo’s directive to “kill all” POWs once the Americans began to take territory. On December 14, 1944, as American troops approached the Philippine Islands, the remaining POWs on Palawan were herded into an improvised air raid shelter, doused with gasoline, set afire, and machine-gunned to death. Nevertheless, a lucky 11 did escape to report on the Palawan Massacre.
At the time of the infamous massacre, Crowley was in Japan. He had been sent there on March 24, 1944 via Formosa aboard the “hell ship,” Taikoku Maru arriving April 3 like most other American and Allied POWs at the Port of Moji, on Kyushu. Three hundred men had been crowded into the ship's fetid hold that ordinarily would accommodate only 25 men. They were 11 days in the dark, lying in their own waste with little food or water. Of the 308 men loaded onto the ship, 17 died en route to Japan.
Crowley remembers that the Japanese had cameras focused on them as they, bedraggled and dazed, made their way down the ship's gangplank to the dock at Moji. We do not know what happened to the newsreels made from these films and photos. Today, there are memorials to Japanese soldiers, horses, and bananas at this historic port. No physical record exists, however, of the thousands of American and Allied POWs who first arrived to Japan at these docks.
He was first sent to the POW camp Tokyo #8B (Motoyama) administered by the Hitachi Company, one of the largest users of slave and forced labor in wartime Japan. There he was a slave laborer in its copper mine, Japan’s oldest and most dangerous. In August, he was transferred to Tochigi, Japan, near Tokyo, where he again mined copper ore. This time for Furukawa Kogyo (today’s Furukawa Company Group) at the Ashio POW Camp Tokyo 9-B until the end of the war. Working alongside Japanese miners were approximately 300 Allied and American POWs from the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dutch East Indies, Norway, Australia, and China.
The mine was closed in 1973 and today is a national historic site and tourist attraction touting the mine’s contribution to Japan’s industrialization, but without mention of the American and Allied POWs who labored there. The Furukawa Group is one of Japan's 15 largest industrial groups and was largely untouched by US Occupation policies to dismantle Japan’s industrial conglomerates.
Furukawa dates its origins back to 1875. Before and during World War II, Furukawa specialized in mining, electronics, and chemicals. Now, the predominant companies are Fuji Electric and Furukawa Electric as well as Fujitsu, FANUC, Advantest, and Yokohama Rubber. One US subsidiary is directly related to its mining operation is Furukawa Rock Drill USA Co., Ltd., in Kent, Ohio. The Furukawa Group has yet to acknowledge or apologize for its use of American and Allied POW slave labor.
The Ashio mine is best known as one of Japan’s most polluted sites with a long history of environmental destruction, citizen protest, and company denial dating back to the late-19th Century when the mine was privatized. Water and air pollution have ravaged the streams and forests of the region, with deteriorating toxic slag pools still threatening villages. Although mining operations were halted in 1971, the smelting of ores continues through the use of imports.
Crowley was liberated on September 4, 1945, after weeks of air drops of food, medicine, and clothing onto the POW camp. He was quickly flown to Manila via Okinawa. After several days at Sternberg General Hospital, an Army troop ship brought him and other POWs to San Francisco by early October where he spent his days recuperating at Letterman General Hospital and nights at the local bars mostly in his pajamas. He returned home to Connecticut close to Christmas. After spending time between Fort Dix Hospital in New Jersey and Connecticut, he was discharged at Fort Devens in Massachusetts on April 4, 1946.
He found that former POWs were quickly stigmatized as being unstable and difficult employees. This meant finding full time employment a challenge and he became a traveling salesman dependent upon commission and his wits. In 1958, he began working for Northwestern Mutual Insurance where he soon became one of their top producers and most successful agents.
Crowley believes he enjoyed a good life in Simsbury, but he will never forget the years stolen from him by the Japanese. "It's a living thing with me," he said. "It's not ancient history at all." In October 2014, Mr. Crowley returned to Japan as part of the 5th US-Japan POW Friendship program. Unfortunately, Furukawa executives refused to meet with him. He did, however, revisit the mine where he toiled. Overall, he felt the trip was a positive experience with the satisfaction of finally getting something back from the Japanese who profited from his labor.
His most recent effort to recognize those with whom he served was advocating for the Connecticut state legislature to name the bridge on Route 185 in Simsbury the “Bataan Corregidor Memorial Bridge” in memory of those soldiers who fought alongside Crowley and who lost their lives at the Battle of Bataan and the Battle of Corregidor. The dedication took place on December 7, 2013.
Mr. Crowley was married 65 years to Marie Boles and they had two children. On April 24, 2014, he married Kelley Thomen who accompanied him to Washington for the President’s Veterans Day Breakfast on November 11, 1916.
Mr. Crowley is a life-time member of VFW, American Legion, and DAV, as well as the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society.
Find more about Mr. Crowley at the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.
Philippines POW #: 1-12747
Palawan POW #: 101
Ashio POW #: 3870