An Officer and a Gentleman

By Ed Klingensmith

Reprinted Courtesy of Ken Laessar's CG History Site

In the space of a lifetime,  we meet thousands of individuals.  Some easily forgotten while others are remembered even though the contact may have only been for a short time.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote on how to be remembered: "If you wouldn't be forgotten as soon as you were dead and rotten,  either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

For my generation of Coast Guardsmen much water  has gone by the boards.  Our eyes are being aided by spectacles whose lens are as thick as the bottom of shot glasses and our hearing requires a battery boosted gizmo since we no longer hear as 'fast' as we once did.  For some, teeth are inelegantly displayed each night in a glass of water,  waistlines are far greater than chest measurements;  taste buds have flowered, withered and died.  We live in the distant past and the old scars of bygone wars have been joined by some still vivid evidence of a different type of battle - the fight for life under the scalpel wielded by a skilled surgeon, and by Father Time.  Yet, there is a breath of life in their tired, battered, worn-out bodies.  That is the sense of comradeship for those we have known, served side-by-side, or have enjoyed discussions of personal lives and hopes for the future.

For many years I have searched for certain special individuals and in turn have been honored by having been sought by others I once called "shipmate."  But, as we are aware, time for that final accounting is drawing near for us; time and tide waits for no man so our searches need to be rung up with four bells and jingle.

Recently, I received information on an individual I have always held in high esteem.  The information was provided by Lieutenant Stephan How, USCG,  assigned to the CG Academy and taken from the USCG magazine dated May, 1949.  Unfortunately, the article only confirmed, in greater detail, what I learned in early 1960 during a visit to the ACADEMY with my family.  In my humble opinion the conduct and actions of Lt. T. James Crotty,  Class of 1934, clearly qualified him under Ben Franklin's term for being remembered.

I first became acquainted with Lt. Crotty when he reported aboard OSSIPEE in 1938.  He quickly became a classical example of the differences one finds in the human race.  As the new coach of our basketball team, composed of OSSIPEE and STE. MAR"S RIVER PATROL personnel, he led us to a successful season; a season of teamwork and enjoyment in the game - the exact opposite as his predecessor.  To this I can attest as I was disciplined, then ejected from an important, hard fought game against Fort Brady Army team the previous season for failing to attach "Mister" to the name of the playing coach.

Crotty recognized the difference in time and places and the team appreciated this and never assumed any advantages because of it.  There was a considerable difference between his gold stripes  and our red ones and a mutual respect was evident,  though much of the color and glamor as a Coast Guard officer is so often pushed aside by the heavy demands that the work-a-day Coast Guard makes of its officers. 

The story of Lt. Thomas James Eugene Crotty, a story all too inadequate because of the horrors of war that threw a ghastly veil of uncertainty and confusion around the disappearance of this outstanding officer during those frightening months in late 1941 and 1942, in what was to become The Pacific Theater of War.

James Crotty was born on March 8, 1912, at Buffalo, N.Y.  At an early age he exhibited readily noticeable qualities of leadership.  He played three years of American Legion baseball and his team finished runner up for the State Championship in the first year.  In his third yeas (still in his teens) he was manager and coach of a Legion team that was runner up in the Eastern Regions 
al finals.  He played high school sports at South Park High School where his academic achievements qualified him to sit for the entrance examination for the Coast Guard Academy where acceptance is based on the individuals personal records and grades, not political appointments. 

During his cadetship he wa son the football team and was elected captain of the team  in his last year.  He was also a member of the basketball team for three years and president of his senior class.  As a cadet he earned the award for excellence in navigation.

Graduating with the Class of 1934, he was assigned to the 250 foot cutter TAMPA and assisted in the saving of passengers from the burning and sinking passenger liner MORRO CASTLE in September 1934. 
Crotty later served on the Pacific Coast in the 165 foot cutter ATLANTA on Bering Sea Patrol and the 187 foot tug REDWING before being transferred to the 165 foot OSSIPEE out of Sault Ste. Marie (the Soo) Michigan.

He returned to the West coast and served in the 165 foot cutter PERSEUS.  In march 1940, he was appointed special deputy marshal representing the Justice Department on the Bering Sea patrol. 

In April 1941, he undertook a course of study at the Mine Warfare School, Yorktown, Virginia and later at the Navy's Mine Recovery Unit, Washington, D.C.  It was this special training that was to take him far afield.

In October 1941, Lt. Crotty sailed to Manila as a member of a Mine recovery Unit under the Commandant, 16th Naval District.

A letter from Lt. Commander Denys W. Knoll, USN to Admiral R.R. Waesche, Commandant U.S. Coast Guard, is the best account of Lt. Crotty's work in organizing the activities under his command in resistance against the Japanese attack

"28 October 1942." Lt. Crotty arrived on the Asiatic Station about 6 weeks prior to the commencement of hostilities and was attached to the in-shore patrol headquarter of the 16th naval District, with offices at the navy Yard, Cavite.  He continued these duties until the afternoon of December 10, 1941, when the Navy Yard was bombed and destroyed by the subsequent fire.   Lt. Crotty continued to perform duties in the Navy Yard area while Admiral Rockwell maintained temporary quarters at Sangley Point. 

When  evacuation of Manila and the Cavite Naval Yard areas became necessary on December 24, 1941, Lt. Crotty, because of his special qualifications in handling explosives, supervised the demolition of the USS SEA LION and other naval, military and important civilian establishments in order they may not fall into enemy hands. To the best of my knowledge, Lt. Crotty arrived at Fort Mills on Corregidor the afternoon of December 25, 1941

I recall that Lt. Crotty accompanied a further expedition to Sangley Point on at least one night between December 26, 1941 and January 1, 1942, prior to Japanese occupation of Cavite Province and Manila. This was in connection with special demolition work.  Lt. Crotty, while attached to Naval Unit at Fort Mills, performed various duties with the guard battalion at Naval Headquarters.  For a period of about 6 weeks during February and March, Lt. Crotty was attached to the USS QUAIL as executive officer.  In this capacity he assisted with the regular sweeping of the channel through mine fields, which made servicing of the submarines possible.

The USS QUAIL at this time also bombarded the west coast of Bataan and thereby greatly assisted the naval battalion in the Marinvales area in overcoming a strong Japanese landing force that had landed on the flank of General Wainwrights corps area and threatened to sever the line of supplies for this organization.

To the best of my knowledge Lt. Crotty returned to Fort Mills for duty with the naval units in the latter part of March, at which time he became Adjutant of the Headquarters guard battalion of the 16th Naval District Headquarters.

The  Headquarters company at that time consisted of about 1000 naval enlisted men who had been on duty in Manila Bay prior to its general evacuation to Fort Mills.  In this capacity Lt. Crotty continued to serve until the capitulation of the forts in the Manila Bay are on May 6 and 7.

Lt. Crotty impressed us all with his fine qualities of naval leadership which was combined with a pleasant personality and willingness to assist everyone to the limit of his ability.  He continued to remain cheerful and maintained a high morale until my departure  from Fort Mills the evening of May 3rd.  Lt. Crotty is worthy of commendation for the energy 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 courage and perserverance that he displayed.

Having seen Lt. Crotty undergo all the trials during my five months in the Manila Bay area, I feel sure that the rigors and trials of a prisoner of war will produce little, if any, change and I look forward to the return of Lt. Crotty to active duty, for I am sure he will continue to perform his duties in keeping with all the traditions of the Naval and Coast Guard Services.

It is a pleasure for me to forward the above remarks concerning Lt. Crotty.  Lt. Crotty in all his duties was a distinct credit to the U.S. Coast Guard and a fine example of the outstanding officers which your service possesses.  I will be pleased to forward any additional information concerning the foregoing remarks if such should be necessary to complete the records.

From the information that is available I feel there is no doubt that Lt. Crotty is now a prisoner of war at a camp near Tarlac, in northern Luzon, and that he is being treated by the Japanese in accordance with the laws of war.

Very Respectfully 
/s/  Denys W. Knoll 
Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy


Other communications from officers who were acquainted with Crotty's activities in the Philippine Islands agreed sufficiently to establish that the belief that he was captured after the fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942. He was held prisoner in Camp Cabantuan, Mieva Ecija, Luzon,  where he is believed to have died September 1942, as a result of diptheria.

A Public Health surgeon remembered: " At Camp Cabantuan I recognized Lt. Crotty's Coast Guard cap insignia and went up and introduced myself.  His morale was excellent in spite of malnutrition and the  environment.  I saw him infrequently with various navy officers whom I do not recall now.  We exchanged jokes and reminiscenced of home on occasions.  The one striking thing I remembered was his continued optimism and cheerfulness under most adverse circumstances.  He was outstanding in this respect at a time when such an attitude  was so necessary for general welfare.

A Navy officer reported he remembered meeting Crotty at Camp Cabantuan about June 1 1942,  when it was believed he had contracted diptheria.  The lack of medicines and the weakened condition of the personnel who administered  treatment,  resulted in little or no proper care.  About three days after taken sick, Lt. Crotty died.  The officer described further, the burial rites that the buried would receive the services of their churches.  If a Protestant chaplain read the services at the morgue, a Catholic chaplain accompanied the detail to the burial site to hold services at that point.

U.S.C.G. Headquarter officially determined that Lt. Crotty died on September 30, 1942.  LTCDR D.P. Marvin, USCG informed the Commandant; that he had talked to a Navy officer who was aboard the last plane to leave the vicinity of Manila , was well acquainted with LCDR Crotty.  He said  Crotty and a Navy officer went back to Cavite after the abandonment of the naval station there and blew up the magazine. They found no boat to use in getting to Bataan, so proceeded by land, arriving there safely.  It was known they were on Corregidor during the last days of the siege.

It is my fondest hope that USCG Headquarters will see the light and perpetuate his memory by naming a cutter after this true WWII hero.


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