What courage means to me.

“Courage means to me that when the time came, that you were called upon to do the right thing, you did it.” – Dan Crowley, 98-year-old WWII veteran and POW

Born on May 29, 1922, in Greenwich, Connecticut, Daniel W. Crowley enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in 1940 and was sent to the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, after months of brutal fighting against an overwhelming Japanese force, he became one of 78,000 US combatants forced to surrender at Bataan.

But Crowley, always looking for an opportunity to escape, jumped into the ocean, swam three miles through shark-infested waters, and made it to the island of Corregidor, where he spent the next three weeks fighting alongside the US 4th Marine Regiment.

Totally surrounded, out of ammo, and suffering from heavy casualties, however, the Americans were once again forced to capitulate. After being marched through the streets of Manila, Crowley and his fellow prisoners were crammed into railroad boxcars.

“Most everyone was suffering from diarrhea,” he later told Stars and Stripes. “Between the urine and the [feces], the floor of the car became a pestilence. That was probably the most horrible thing of all those years of incarceration – wallowing in human waste.”

Arriving at a POW camp about 70 miles from Manila, the Americans began what would be a three-and-a-half year long nightmare.

Subjected to torture, subhuman living conditions, and brutal work loads, men died from starvation, exhaustion, and disease. “The death rate got to be astronomical,” he said in Stars and Stripes. “After about six months, you were a living skeleton.”

As US forces moved closer to Japan, however, Crowley and countless other surviving prisoners were taken to the mainland in “hellships,” vessels crammed with sick, malnourished, and dying American POWs. “They packed human beings so tightly,” he recalled, “that you couldn’t turn around, sit down, or lie down. It was beyond your worst nightmare.”

Crowley, miraculously, survived the ordeal and spent the final year of captivity working at a Japanese mine. “We were slaves at the Furukawa copper mine,” he remembered of his months in the godforsaken work camp.

On September 4, 1945, Crowley and his fellow POWs were liberated, ending one of the most heinous chapters of WWII.

Crowley returned home, was discharged from the military, and later married and had two children. Over the years, he developed a close affiliation with the sailors of the USS Bataan ((LHD-5), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship named for the Battle of Bataan.

As an “informal ambassador” to the ship, the jovial WWII veteran has visited the crew on numerous occasions, inspiring them with his stories, positive attitude, and sense of humor.

Last week – at the age of 98 – he was presented with the Combat Infantry Badge, Prisoner of War Medal, and his sergeant stripes (never given to him at the end of the war) during a ceremony at Bradley International Airport/Air National Guard hanger in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

Today we pay tribute to Daniel Crowley, his family, and all those who served, sacrificed, and died in WWII and endured the horrors of being a POW. We will never forget you!

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