Remains of first Coast Guard member to become POW in WWII returning home for burial
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 31, 2019
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — The remains of the first Coast Guard member to be taken prisoner of war during World War II will be flown from Hawaii to New York for burial after a repatriation ceremony Thursday.
Lt. Thomas Crotty, 30, died July 19, 1942, at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp in the Philippines after being captured with the fall of Corregidor earlier that year. Crotty was among the 76,000 Filipino and American prisoners pressed into the Bataan Death March by their Japanese captors.
He was the first Coast Guard member to become a prisoner of war since the War of 1812, according to the service.
Crotty’s repatriation ceremony will be held at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu.
An honor platoon will escort his remains from a hearse to a HC-130 Hercules airplane for a flight to Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento.
He will be buried Nov. 2 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Crotty’s remains had lay in a grave for unknowns in the Philippines for more than a half-century.
After dying from disease, he was first buried in the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery. After the war ended, personnel from the American Graves Registration Service exhumed and examined all those buried at the cemetery, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
But because of extensive commingling of the bodies and the limited technologies available at the time, some remains were not identifiable. Those were reburied as “unknowns” in the graveyard now known as Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, DPAA said in a news release.
Those remains were again disinterred in January 2018 and sent to the DPAA lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The lab in September identified the remains as belonging to Crotty.
The lab used dental and anthropological analysis, along with circumstantial evidence, in making the identification. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also used mitochondrial DNA analysis, DPAA said.
DPAA lists 613 Coast Guard members as unaccounted for from World War II, with 448 of them considered “non-recoverable” because the remains are in the deep sea or were obliterated in some way.
Crotty, a native of Buffalo, graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1934, and then served on cutters based out of New York, Seattle, Alaska and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the Coast Guard said.
He was manning a Coast Guard cutter that responded to the infamous 1934 fire aboard the cruise ship Morro Castle, which left 137 passengers and crew members dead before the ship ran aground on the New Jersey shore.
After extensive training at Navy facilities, Crotty became the Coast Guard’s leading expert in mine operations and demolition. In the summer of 1941, he was sent to the Philippines, where he served as second-in-command aboard the Navy minesweeper USS Quail.
After World War II broke out on Dec. 7, 1941, he spent the following months defending the ever-shrinking Allied strongholds in the Philippines against the Japanese incursion.
Defenders on the Bataan peninsula fought on until April 1942, while forces on Corregidor island held out until May. The deck guns on the USS Quail had been moved to Corregidor for a final stand.
Eyewitnesses last saw Crotty commanding a force of Marines and soldiers who were firing 75 mm guns at Japanese forces landing on Corregidor’s beaches, the Coast Guard said.
Crotty became a victim of a diphtheria epidemic that raged through Cabanatuan in the late summer, which at one point was killing 40 prisoners a day. Without medical care, he died days after contracting the disease.