CPL. Daniel C. Crowley, POW
US Army Air Corps – Aircraft Crew Chief
17th Pursuit Squadron
Bataan, Cabanatuan, Palawan, Japan ’40-‘46
US Army Air Corps – Aircraft Crew Chief
17th Pursuit Squadron
Bataan, Cabanatuan, Palawan, Japan ’40-‘46
Dan Crowley was born in Greenwich CT on May 29, 1922 the 6th of 6 boys. His father owned a designer women’s wear business and manufactured his lines in New York City. Despite only a 3rd grade formal education, he was very successful, and the family lived in an affluent neighborhood in Greenwich, CT. During the Great Depression Dan’s father lost his business as people were no longer making luxury purchases. Dan remembers, “one day rich and the next absolutely broke. We didn’t realize we were poor, that’s how everyone lived.” Dan recalls that jobs were a rarity and “nobody paid any bills”. Dan recalled that the bank allowed his family to stay in their home for 10 years without making any mortgage payments.
With no one forcing him to attend school Dan stopped going. He thought it was unnecessary. Dan and his friends were more concerned with acquiring vehicles and being able to find beer. When Dan turned 16 he purchased a 4 cylinder Ford Model A and insured it for a grand total of $50. Dan’s father was self-educated and “he read every newspaper printed.” In Dan’s house there were daily discussions about the growing conflicts in the world. Dan’s father was against getting involved in the war in Europe. He would make “speech’s” about not allowing Britain to drag the US into their conflict. “He didn’t realize that peace at any price was not the way. Seeking peace by not preparing left us totally helpless.”
Dan and his buddies were growing bored with their lives and were looking for excitement. One night at a bar in Port Chester NY they decided to join the military to take a great adventure. They went to the recruiting station in Bridgeport, CT and were told there were no openings. They drove on to a recruiting station in New Haven, CT and were told the same thing. The recruiter suggested they try Hartford. They arrived in Hartford and were told there were three openings for the Philippines. “We had no idea what the Philippines were or where the Philippines were, but it sounded like what we were looking for; a nice long trip on Uncle Sam.” They enlisted on October 7, 1940 with the intension of only serving for one year. At that time there was a way to buy your way out of the service after one year by paying the government back what they spent to train you.
Dan headed off to FT Slocum in New Rochelle, NY for basic training. Dan said that basic training consisted of very little practical training. At that time the general sentiment in the US was against engaging in another war. The memories of World War I were still fresh in the country’s collective memories. Therefore, there was little spending on the military. Dan said he didn’t have any feeling of regret at the time until their shipped passed through New York Harbor and they passed the Statue of Liberty. Then he began to regret his decision “when I saw the lady fade in the distance.”
The trio went to the Philippines via California and Hawaii and arrived in Manilla in March of 1941. He was assigned to the Air Corp at Nichols Field and was responsible for servicing the aircraft. Dan again says that they received little training because there was not enough gas for the pilots to fly. In July ’41 when Washington DC realized that the Philippines were totally vulnerable to attack, they began to receive technical training to work on the aircraft. The equipment being used in the Philippines at the time was the antiquated remains of WW I equipment leaving them at a decided disadvantage against a modernized Japanese military.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The news made its way to the Philippine’s and General Brereton learned the Japanese would be launching an attack from Formosa against the Philippine’s. He was unable to get permission from General McArthur to launch a preemptive attack. Permission wasn’t given until 5 hours later. In the interim Brereton launched his bombers to prevent them from being hit by attacking Japanese planes. When the order came to launch the bombers to attack Formosa, the bombers were ordered to return to the ground to refuel and be readied to attack. Approximately 18 hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the Philippines and destroyed most all of the bombers. The US was unable to provide any meaningful defense of the Philippine bases resulting in massive losses of equipment, fuel and personnel. At the time the bombs started falling, Dan had left his position to get a cup of coffee. His position was wiped out by a Japanese bomb.
The Japanese attacks were nonstop. On December 24th they left Nichols Field by truck headed to Manilla where they were put on inter Island steamboats that serviced all of the Island. They sailed all night and thought they were headed to Australia but ended up in Mariveles, at the tip of the Bataan peninsula. The US and Filipino troops were under constant attack. They managed to hold the Japanese off for quite some time. “The Japs were very upset we were holding them up from conquering the Philippine’s.” By April 9th it became clear that there would be no resupply or reinforcements coming. The Japanese had sent a message that if the US didn’t surrender, they would massacre everyone. General Edward King determined the situation was hopeless and decided to surrender. Dan and a few 100 others didn’t want to surrender so he jumped into the water and began swimming to Corregidor which was 3 miles away. He made it alive and joined up with the 4th Marine Corps.
This helped Dan avoid the Bataan Death March, but Corregidor was under constant attack. The Japanese managed to get a tank ashore and had it pointed directly into a major tunnel where the American hospital was located. General Wainwright was forced to make a decision to surrender or have all of his troops massacred. On May 6th the US and Filipino forces surrendered. They were packed into a 2 to 3 acre area of concrete called the 92nd Garage Depot. The worst condition was human waste. The ground was covered with it. “The defecation and urination were almost nonstop because of the of the rotten diet.” They dug slit trenches to try and make it sanitary. ”It was the worst condition of filth I ever experienced.” The men would back up to the trenches, slip off the edge into the pits and drown.
Next they were sailed from Corregidor to Manila where the Japanese paraded them before the Filipino people to make a show of the Japanese domination. The men were then packed like sardines onto a train. There was no place to sit, again the human waste was awful and there was almost no way to breath. Finally, the train stopped, and the POW’s were forced to march until they reached Cabanatuan.
At Cabanatuan there was virtually no food and the men were constantly ill. After the Japanese guards caught a few prisoners who tried to escape the Japanese made a rule that for every prisoner that escaped 10 prisoners would be killed. Dan saw three POWs were tied to posts outside the front gate and were constantly beaten by the Japanese guards. Crowley worked on a farm growing sweet potatoes for the Japanese. The POW’s were beaten for the slightest infraction. Dan did his best to be inconspicuous to remain out of the sight of the Japanese in order to survive. Despite this Dan received his fair share of beatings. It was so bad here that he volunteered to go to work at Palawan, another camp, without any knowledge of the conditions. Dan reasoned that it was so bad in Cabanatuan that anywhere else would be better.
Palawan turned out to be brutally hard work. Their task was to hack a runway out of the jungle with only picks, axes and shovels. Here Dan wore only a lion cloth, had a beard down to his waist and his skin was burnt black from the sun. At nigh they would sleep on the floor of old wooden barracks. The guards had sticks they called “vitamin sticks” which they used to beat them. Dan never saw anyone beaten to death, but he was almost beaten to death. One of the Japanese guards used a pick handle to beat Dan. “I was lying on the ground and this son of a bitch swung for my head, but he was stopped by another Jap guard who said, ‘we need him’.” Dr. Mango, an American doctor, eventually declared Dan “unfit for work” and he was sent back to Cabanatuan. The lowest point of his incarceration had just ended.
Next Dan ended up on a “Hell Ship” to Japan. The Japanese loaded US POWs into the bottom hold of ships headed for Japan to use the men as slave labor. The men were packed so tightly they ended up in a crouching position for the entire voyage with little ventilation and human excrement everywhere. These memories still bother Dan.
Upon arriving in Japan Dan was sent to work in a copper mine in Hitachi, Japan. He was only there for a short time before he was transferred to a copper mine in Ashio. Each morning the POWs were packed into a steel bucket and lowered into the mine. Dan recalls the bucket operator would open the break and allow the bucket to free fall 1000+ feet before slamming the break and making the bucket slam to a halt and bounce up and down. This happened each morning for 18 months. During his time in the mine Dan worked alongside a Japanese civilian he called the Dynamite Monkey. Dan’s job was to open boxes of dynamite and hand the dynamite to the Dynamite Monkey who packed the sticks of dynamite into the holes drilled by the other American POWs. Amidst all of this horror Dan had a positive relationship with his Japanese overseer. He would share some of his lunch from his Bento Box with Dan. He also allowed Dan to rest and warned him when the Japanese guards were coming near. This camp had a POW known as Punchy Freeborn from Philadelphia. He got his nick name because he was a Golden gloves champ. Dan remembers him circulating rumors about how the Americans were winning. Rumor or not, it gave the POWs hope and raised morale.
One day the POWs learned that they would have the day off because the Emperor would be speaking over the radio. This was the first time the Japanese people ever heard the Emperor speak. Through an interpreter Dan learned the war was over. The men were told not to leave the camp because the Japanese would kill them. Eventually a train was sent to pick them up and take them to Yokohama. They were then flow to Manila. On the way Dan’s plane lost two of its four engines. After interrogation and examination by the US Red Cross and was put on a ship back to California. He vividly remembers seeing the Golden Gate Bridge come into view. Dan traveled by train to Chicago and then on to New York City and finally to Greenwich. He arrived late at night and knocked on the door of his home. His mother opened the door and he said, “Hi mom, I’m home.”
Dan went looking for a job but had a hard time because no large companies would hire a POW. They thought they would have too many psychological problems. With the help of his brother, he got a job as a sales rep on full commission. For 12 years he sold a variety of merchandise into the jewelry industry. He later took a job with Northwestern Mutual Life selling life insurance which he really loved. Dan retired in 1975 at 53 years old.
To this day Dan still enjoys his beer. It is impossible for most anyone to understand how any human being could survive what Dan endured. It is also impossible to understand how depraved, inhuman and savage certain human beings can be to their fellow man. Of the trio of friends that left for a great adventure, Dan made out the best. His one friend died in a POW camp just before the war ended, the second suffered from tuberculosis.
Dan was asked if he could forgive the Japanese. “I can forgive the people of Japan as a whole, but not the perpetrators. They delighted in making us suffer.”