A Local Veteran and the Importance of V-J Day

August 11, 2010

This past weekend marked the 65th anniversary of one of the most important dates in our nation’s History. August 14, 1945, was the day in which Americans learned that Japanese Emperor Hirohito would agree to terms of the Potsdam Declaration, signifying the end of World War II. Known as V-J Day (Victory over Japan), the date may be best remembered for a famous Life magazine photo of an American Sailor kissing a woman in the middle of Times Square. For veterans of the war, especially those who served in the Pacific, the date has even greater significance.

I wasn’t reminded of V-J Day by a note on my calendar, but rather it was brought to my attention by a constituent. In my travels across the 8th Senatorial District, I have had the opportunity to meet some pretty interesting people. Dan Crowley of Simsbury is one of these people. I met the now 88 year-old Simsbury resident for the first time earlier this year. Stationed in the Philippines when Japan struck Pearl Harbor, he later spent nearly three and half years as a POW in both the Philippines and Japan.

While many of us are familiar with the significant events of WWII, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Invasion of Normandy, Iwo Jima and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, less is known of the sacrifices, tribulations and the ultimate horror that the thousands of Americans who served with Crowley had to endure from Japanese atrocities.

In speaking with Crowley, he was quick to rattle off significant dates from his service as if they occurred just last week. But after learning what he had been through, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could forget.

His ordeal began on December 8, 1941 when the Japanese, as part of a two pronged attack (Pearl Harbor being the first); hit his air base near Manila in their quest to gain access to resources in the British and Dutch colonies of Southeast Asia. Crowley had mentioned that they anticipated a strike after finding out that the Pacific Navy fleet had been seriously crippled from the attack in Hawaii.

Within a couple of weeks he was headed for the peninsula of Bataan where malaria and the lack of food took the lives of thousands. But a mix of American and Filipino troops held off the Japanese for months before Gen. Edward King surrendered on April 9, 1942. Despite this, Crowley and a small brigade, under the command of Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, continued to fight on the island of Corregidor until May 6, 1942, when he too officially surrendered, a day Crowley calls the “worst disgrace” for U.S. troops and the beginning of his time as a POW.

Crowley’s first stop was at Camp O’Donnell, where over 22,000 American and Filipino POWs were put to death through starvation and disease. He indicated that the conditions would be hard for anyone to believe and that the only reason the camp was ever shut down was because Japanese soldiers were getting sick. He was later transferred to Camp Cabanatuan and then onto a slave camp in Palawan where he helped build an airfield in the blazing sun with little clothes, no hat nor shoes. At all times he and his fellow POWs suffered from lack of nourishment, he estimates that half the prisoners died in their prisons and if it weren’t for an American doctor’s convincing diagnosis that he was mentally unfit, he would have been returned to the camp and burned alive with the remaining prisoners at the airfield.

Instead Crowley was shipped to Japan where long days working in a mine took up most of his time until that day in August of 1945 when – as he puts it – “the Japanese admitted that we got their attention.” He recalled that because the Emperor was speaking, prisoners were not allowed to work. And it began for him what he calls the “year of freedom.”

When I met Dan Crowley, I thought about writing this column but wasn’t sure I could do it any justice considering what he has been through. Then I read quote from him a few years back where he said, “The public isn’t told; all they know is Hiroshima. They don’t know anything about the Japanese brutality.” Dan Crowley does know he experienced it.

While the anniversary of V-J Day has passed, it shouldn’t stop us from learning more about what took place six and a half decades ago.