The US Coast Guard may be the smallest service but that has not kept her from involvement in big actions, including every major conflict since the War of 1812. There is, however, one Battle Streamer hanging from the Coast Guard Standard which truly a tribute to one, single member.
The Coast Guard Standard is adorned by 43 Battle Streamers representing heroic actions in all maritime or navel conflicts since 1790. Some, like the CG Presidential Unit Citation, cover service-wide actions during specifically dangerous or arduous assignments such as Hurricane Katrina. Others, such as the War of 1812, signify participation in general wartime operations rather than specific battles. In almost every case the Battle Streamers are intended to recognize the service as a whole, except that one red streamer adorned with twin white stripes and three stars.
Identical banners have been awarded to each of the other services, it is officially known as the Philippine Defense Award. But as far as the Coast Guard is concerned it could just as accurately be called the Lt. Thomas Crotty Streamer.
Thomas James Eugene Crotty was born in Buffalo NY 1912, youngest of 7 children. As a youth, he excelled in sports as well as academics and following graduation was accepted to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Following graduation from the academy in 1934, Thomas Crotty would embark on a fast paced and promising career, crisscrossing the country for service on Cutters in NY, Seattle, Sault Ste. Marie And San Diego. He was even selected for special assignment to the Bering Sea Patrol.
But none of the would compare to his next assignment- joint training with the Navy studying mine warfare. The plan was for newly promoted Lt. Crotty to train with and learn from the Navy units involved in mine placement& removal and demolitions. At the conclusion of this assignment, Crotty would be the Coast Guard’s expert in such practices, which would surely lead to increased promotion and responsibility.
All that changes with his last assignment – US Navy Mine Recovery Unit Philippines, home ported in Manila. Lt. Crotty would arrive in Manila in October 1941 as tension with Japan was reaching its peak. On December 10th, 3 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese would turn their attention to the US forces in the Philippine Islands, including LT Crotty USCG.
Between December 10th and May 6th, the US Forces would fight valiantly to hold off the invading Japanese. Lt. Crotty would use both his shipboard experience and new found demolition knowledge as XO of the minesweeper U.S.S. Quail and during covert missions to destroy key strategic locations before they could be captured.
When Manila fell he escaped and joined the “Naval Battalion” under the command of Cmdr. Francis Bridget, a downed pilot who gathered various sailors, aircrews and others isolated from their commands into a makeshift defense force. While serving in this unit Crotty would continue to harass Japanese patrols and provide rear protection to the larger Bataan forces.
After the fall of Bataan Lt. Crotty continued to fight, this time with the Marine Corps’ Fourth Regiment, 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion would see intense action while defending Corregidor Island, during which time Lt Crotty would spend 2 days manning a 75mm field piece.
Eventually, all American Forces in the Philippines would surrender, including Lt. Crotty. He would be loaded onto a train and find himself imprisoned at Cabanatuan Prison Camp #6, becoming the first Coast Guard POW since the War of 1812.
Many of his fellow prisoners would survive the war after being rescued by the Army’s 6th Rangers in 1945, a mission made famous in the movie The Great Raid. Unfortunately Lt. Crotty would not be so lucky, dying on July 19, 1942, after contracting diphtheria.
For his action during the defense of the Philippines Lt. Crotty would be awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and associated individual awards. As the sole Active duty Coast Guardsman to see service during the Philippine Defense he was also responsible for the U.S. Coast Guard’s authorization for the Battle Streamer associated with that action.
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