Daniel Crowley is a 98 year-old World War II veteran who was just finally honored with the Combat Infantryman Badge nearly eighty years after he defended the Bataan Peninsula from invading Japanese forces and spent his subsequent years suffering as a prisoner of war.
“The event that is happening here today is nearly 76 years late in coming,” Gregory J. Slavonic, acting undersecretary of the Navy, said during a ceremony at Bradley Air National Guard Base in East Granby, Connecticut.
AARP reported that in 1941, Crowley was assigned to Nichols Field as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7 of that year, Japan launched attacks on various other American military facilities throughout the Pacific.
Though Crowley was untrained, he was given an antiquated machine gun and made a provisional infantryman so that he could help defend the base from the Japanese.
“He was a combat infantryman, but he didn’t sign up with combat infantry — he signed up with the Army Air Corps — and that was the slight technicality which kept him from getting the award,” explained his wife Kelley.
The Combat Infantryman Badge is given to infantrymen and members of Special Forces with the rank of colonel and below who served in active ground combat. Crowley never thought he would get the award because it was only recently that the Army became open to giving it to provisional soldiers who fought on Bataan.
A few months ago, Crowley decided to apply for the honor one last time.
“I wasn’t the only one, remember — there were thousands like me who were designated something else,” he said. “When the war started, they suddenly had to become infantryman, without any training.”
Crowley became a prisoner of war when the Bataan Peninsula was overrun by the Japanese in May of 1942, and he was quickly subjected to forced labor by his captors. He was then sent from the Philippines to Japan aboard what he lated described as a “hell ship,” in which approximately 300 men were held in the dark. Crowley and his fellow prisoners were forced to lie in their own waste and were given little food and water for the eleven day journey.
Once in Japan, Crowley was forced to work in some of the country’s most dangerous copper mines.
“It takes a very special person to continue to persevere through the most haunting of circumstances; it takes certain depth of character to put yourself in harm’s way for your fellow warriors and for your country,” Slavonic said before he gave Crowley the POW medal.
As the ceremony went on, Crowley was given yet another award.
“When the Army began digging into Dan’s history and service, they uncovered that Dan was promoted to the rank of sergeant,” Slavonic explained.
Though Crowley was made a sergeant in 1945, he was honorably discharged before the order could reach him.
“I have to say that to be able to do this today is a rare and humbling opportunity for me as the undersecretary of the Navy. To be able to recognize Dan for his many sacrifices and accomplishments,” Slavonic said. “He truly represents the members of the greatest generation who did so much and asked so little from their country.”