This Coast Guard hero fought with Marines for two days to hold the Japanese at Corregidor

With every generation of servicemen comes the heroes who stand out, putting the needs of the service before themselves. One of these men was almost lost to history, but thanks to his family and their ability to instill passion into anyone who would listen, Thomas James Eugene “Jimmy” Crotty’s story now teaches new generations of Coast Guardsmen what “Devotion to Duty” really means.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

From his childhood in Buffalo, New York, to his time at the Coast Guard Academy, Crotty was a gifted academic, athlete, and later, cadet. At the academy, he played basketball and football and served as football team captain, class president and vice president, and company commander over his four years in New London. Crotty took his drive and intelligence into the fleet. While serving on his first cutter, the USCGC Tampa, he was a part of the famed rescue of passengers from the SS Morro Castle.

He also served on the Bering Sea Patrol, known for testing even the most skilled sailors.  Serving on cutters from Seattle to New York to San Diego, Crotty’s most important moves came in 1941. By the end of that year, after training with the U.S. Navy, he would find himself as the Coast Guard’s expert on explosives warfare, mine warfare and demolition.

After mine warfare school, Crotty was attached to the In-Shore Patrol Headquarters, where he would serve with a mine recovery unit for the Navy’s Asiatic Fleet in Manila, Philippines. Less than two months after Crotty’s arrival in Manila, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Three days later, the Japanese would bomb and destroy the majority of the Cavite Navy Yard, headquarters of the Navy in Manila.

After Pearl Harbor, Crotty became the second-in-command on the minesweeper USS Quail. On the Quail, Crotty strategically demolished facilities around the Philippines to keep them from falling into enemy hands, including a U.S. submarine, the USS Sea Lion. The Quail maintained minefields around Manila Bay, as well as shooting down several Japanese aircraft.

The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

During his time on the Quail, Crotty also voluntarily served with the Naval Battalion, alongside Marines and Navy personnel, with the purpose of surrounding the Japanese and forcing their position back to the beaches. In late January, Crotty and the Quail helped coordinate land and sea forces to push out the Japanese hidden in the Jungle and along the rocky and cavernous coastline.

The Quail

The Quail

Because of the bombing of Cavite and the encroaching Japanese forces on the island, the Navy moved their headquarters from Cavite to Fort Mills, on Corregidor Island. In April 1942, Crotty transferred to Corregidor where he worked with the Navy’s headquarters staff.

The day that would prove most pivotal in Crotty’s short life was May 5, 1942. The Japanese landed on Corregidor, the last American controlled area in the Philippines. As other forces evacuated, Crotty stayed behind and fought with the Marine Fourth Regiment, First Battalion. An eyewitness said Crotty supervised a howitzer dug-in atop an underground command center on the eastern tip of the island. Only after American forces surrendered the next day did Crotty leave his post. He was captured and transferred to Cabanatuan Prison Camp #1, where he died two months later of diphtheria.

A 75mm Howitzer on Corregidor. Crotty commanded a similar gun for almost two days before being captured.

A 75mm Howitzer on Corregidor. Crotty commanded a similar gun for almost two days before being captured.

As the youngest of seven children in a close-knit Irish family, Jimmy Crotty was dearly missed. His mother and siblings never forgot the sacrifices Jimmy made, as well as his place in the tight knit family. His siblings passed down his legacy to their children. Even today, the Crotty family has not forgotten the man they call “Uncle Jimmy.”

In a push lead by his great-nephew, Mike Crotty, the family was instrumental in bringing Crotty’s story back to life, which lead to him being posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, both of which are displayed in the Coast Guard Academy Cadet Memorial Chapel, where the baptismal font is also dedicated to Crotty.

After sharing the story with the U.S. Coast Guard Museum, curator Jennifer Gaudio and the family arranged for their 2014 family reunion to be held at the Coast Guard Academy on the weekend of CGA’s rivalry game with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The Coast Guard Academy surprised the family with the dedication of its 2014 football season to Crotty, and their helmets were adorned with a decal of a mine and the number 34, the year Crotty graduated eighty years prior.

Crotty has since been remembered on the Coast Guard Academy’s Wall of Gallantry, which honors alumni for “distinguished acts of heroic service.” The U.S. Coast Guard Museum also installed an exhibit on Crotty’s life and service.