Coast Guard Academy football dedicates season to WWII hero

Written by Kara Noto.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy football team enters Cadet Memorial Field to battle the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in the Secretary's Cup Sept. 8, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

There’s a special kind of nostalgia that surrounds college football. The players on the field represent perseverance, united in teamwork, feeling like a hero. For Lt. Thomas James Eugene Crotty, known simply as Jimmy to his shpmates, victory on the U.S. Coast Guard Academy football field was just the beginning of his legacy.

As the CGA Bears head into a rivalry game – the highly anticipated Secretaries’ Cup – the football team has come together to celebrate the life of Crotty by dedicating the 2014 football season to his memory, raising the profile of a hero who truly lived and died by the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

Undated photo of Ensign Thomas James Eugene Crotty. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Ensign Thomas James Eugene Crotty. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Crotty was a distinguished 1934 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy. As a natural athlete and leader, he unsurprisingly became the captain of the ’33-‘34 football team, and in keeping with CGA’s multipronged approach to building officers of character, also served as company commander in addition to his role as senior class president. During this season of college homecomings, the Coast Guard will take time to commemorate a shipmate, a war hero and a leader who sacrificed his own life in defense of his nation.

“I heard about Lieutenant Crotty from Coach [Bill] George and I read-up on his life and his time in the Coast Guard. What really stuck with me were the letters and the commentary from his shipmates and those he served with. Crotty’s character in the face of adversity was so inspiring,” said CGA Bears football captain 1st Class Cadet Collis Brown. “Mr. Crotty pursued every goal in his life with passion and unbelievable drive. Our team is looking to emulate that spirit through our play on the football field. Giving it our all as a team and leaving it all on the field is just one small way we can pay tribute to his commitment to his mission.”

Crotty was propelled by his student leadership to a brief but promising Coast Guard career, bouncing from coast to coast, gaining the experience and technical expertise that lead eventually to U.S. Navy training in mine warfare. Crotty’s specialty set him on a professional path toward World War II combat unfolding halfway around the world. As one of Crotty’s commanding officers indicated, Jimmy was “forceful and always enthusiastic about engaging in new problems; sometimes too willing to attempt things when perhaps, maturer judgment would suggest further consideration.”

In early October 1941, Crotty received orders to sail for the Philippines and join a U.S. Navy mine recovery unit at the Navy fleet’s homeport in Manila. Crotty was attached to an in-shore patrol unit, similar to modern day small boat patrol missions performed as part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In the months following Pearl Harbor, world events tested the young officer’s character, who found himself and his team evading Japanese bombings. He was selected to become the second in command of the U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Quail. At the same time, he served with a demolition team tasked with destroying U.S. civilian and military facilities and preventing them from falling into enemy hands.

A shadowbox at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is a constant reminder of Lt. Thomas James Eugene Crotty's service and sacrifice. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A shadowbox at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is a constant reminder of Lt. Jimmy Crotty’s service and sacrifice. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Following the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese, Crotty served with U.S. and Philippine forces defending the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay. Despite desperate efforts against Japanese troops, American forces in the region were overpowered and eventually surrendered. Crotty and his battalion were taken prisoner by the Japanese, loaded onto landing craft and shipped to Manila. There the prisoners of war boarded box cars on a train destined for a POW camp located hundreds of miles north in Luzon. Just three months after arriving at the camp, and only three days after contracting diphtheria, Crotty passed away on July 19, 1942, read his last rights and buried in a mass grave.

When Jimmy graduated, the 1934 Tide Rips yearbook reflected on their time together as cadets, remembering Crotty with special fondness, “He will be missed by all of us when we come to the temporary parting of ways, but the future will be enlightened with thoughts that we will serve with him again. Bon Voyage and Good Luck.”

The sentiment applies to Crotty and all Coast Guard shipmates who serve and have served together.

Captain of the 2014 Coast Guard Academy Bears football team 1st Class Cadet Collis Brown. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Captain of the 2014 Coast Guard Academy Bears football team 1st Class Cadet Collis Brown. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

As the Bears take to the football field for this year’s Secretaries’ Cup against U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, the honor guard will present the flags our nation and our military branches. As Brown stands alongside his teammates and places his hand over his heart, he’ll take a moment to reflect on the significance of those flags and the battle streamers that hang from the Coast Guard ensign. Each streamer represents a theater of operation, and the Coast Guard’s heroic actions therein. Cadet Brown will look for the red and white Philippine Defense streamer, earned valiantly by a Coast Guard hero missed by all of us, then and now.

Go Bears, Beat Merchant Marine.

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