On April 9, 1942, U.S. General Edward King surrendered to the Japanese army after a battle on the Philippine peninsula of Bataan. Dan Crowley and a group of other soldiers didn't obey that order - they fought on. Swimming to the small island of Corregidor, in Manila Bay, Private Crowley somehow dodged the artillery for nearly a month before being forced to surrender. The horrific World War II event that followed is now known as the Bataan Death March. U.S. and Philippine soldiers suffered unspeakable atrocities, and later, Crowley was enslaved 2,000 feet underground in a copper mine until Japan finally surrendered in September of 1945. Through the years, Crowley shared those memories with a fellow P.O.W. and best friend, Harry Johnson, who also survived the experience after being lucky enough to be dug out of a pile of corpses when someone heard him moan. That friendship ended three years ago at the passing of that kindred soul. Over the last year or so, Crowley also lost his wife of sixty-six years to cancer, and has been pre-deceased by his sixty-two-year-old son. Crowley answers my question about thankfulness and shares his stories with so much passion and perspective. "I'm thankful to be alive. Thankful that I was somehow chosen to still be alive. All my friends, who I was with in the rotten Japanese slave labor camps are dead," he says sitting in the drivers seat of his bright red 1997 Mustang Cobra sports car." I savor life, the Simsbury resident says. "I was in bad shape for a while. No corporation would hire us when we got home. I went out and sold on my own for straight commission." Crowley is also grateful for his family, especially his father who he learned so much from, and his wife, whose parting advice to him was to find a young woman and enjoy life. So what is he doing with the days he is lucky to keep living? "Eat, sleep and make love," he punctuates with hearty and sustained laughter. At 2:00 p.m. on December 7, the state of Connecticut is dedicating a bridge in the Weatogue section of Simsbury the "Bataan Corregidor Memorial Bridge." Crowley will be communicating with the pilots to perfectly time a military fly-over of the event. "I'm thankful that finally recognition is being given to the memory of the men of Connecticut and throughout the United states," he says. Crowley has led the effort for years, saying, "This is not about veterans, it's about those who died in the battle and aftermath as prisoner slave laborers. They must not be forgotten."
Richard Messina / Hartford Courant