EXEMPLARY USCG OFFICER WHO
DIED IN JAPANESE POW CAMP
Thomas James Eugene Crotty graduated in 1934 from the Coast Guard Academy where he excelled in leadership and athletics, serving as class president, company commander and captain of the football team. He then served for six years aboard Coast Guard cutters based in New York, Seattle, Alaska and Sault Ste. Marie. In April 1941, he received orders to undertake studies at the Navy’s Mine Warfare School in Yorktown, Virginia. Following additional training at the Navy’s Mine Recovery Unit in Washington, D.C., Crotty became the Coast Guard’s leading expert in mine operations, demolition and the use of explosives. He was sent to the Philippines in late October 1941 for assignment at the Navy yard at Cavite where he was involved in mine-removal. In mid December 1941 he was assigned to the Navy minesweeper USS Quail as the Executive Officer. During the early days of World War II, Quail was involved in a number of demolition operations that destroyed strategic civilian and military facilities to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. One memorable operation supervised by Crotty was stripping the damaged submarine USS Sea Lion of useful parts and then sinking it with depth charges.
As the situation deteriorated, Quail provided shore bombardment and successfully shot down several Japanese planes. Crotty also helped clear minefield seeded in Manila Bay to protect U.S. forces from the Japanese navy. Mines were cleared at night so U.S. submarines could deliver supplies and transport personnel from the island, and it was dangerous work. Crotty and his comrades stretched a chain between their boats and proceeded along a predetermined course, snagging mines. Once the mines surfaced, crew members shot them until they sank.
It eventually became necessary for Crotty and his shipmates to move ashore and he then found himself serving as a Marine with the 4th Regiment, 1st Battalion, on Corregidor, and engaging enemy forces. His versatility included supervising Army personnel who manned a 75mm howitzer, mounted on a small mountain top that protected the island fortress’ underground command center. But it was a losing battle and thus with disease, starvation and exhaustion mounting, American forces surrendered on May 6, 1942 and Crotty became the first Coast Guard prisoner of war since the War of 1912.
Crotty was imprisoned at the Cabanatuan prison camp where he was soon known for his sense of humor and positive outlook. A fellow POW recalled his “continued optimism and cheerfulness under the most adverse circumstances. He was outstanding in this respect at a time when such an attitude was so necessary for the general welfare.” Unfortunately, Crotty’s lightheartedness was suddenly dimmed when a severe epidemic of diphtheria swept through the camp, which lacked medicine and health services. On July 19, 1942, three days after contracting the disease Crotty died, and he was buried in a mass grave outside the prison walls in grave number 312. On September 10, 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that after an extensive investigation the remains of LT Thomas James Eugene Crotty had finally been identified. He now rests at eternal peace at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
A former officer POW shipmate described LT Crotty as one who exemplified the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty. He wrote: “Lieutenant Crotty impressed us all with his fine qualities of naval leadership which were combined with a very pleasant personality and a willingness to assist everyone to the limit of his ability. He continued to remain very cheerful and retained a high morale. Lieutenant Crotty is worthy of commendation for the energetic and industrious manner in which he performed all his tasks. He continued to be an outstanding example of an officer and a gentleman to all hands and was a source of encouragement to many who did not possess his high qualities of courage and perseverance that he displayed.” He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious service.
Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)