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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Oct. 27, 2021

Jimmy: A look into the man behind the uniform 

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban, Coast Guard Academy

The story of Lt. Thomas J.E. “Jimmy” Crotty is one that continues to reverberate through the Coast Guard ranks today. 

Crotty, a 1934 graduate of the Academy, spent his first seven years in the fleet domestically, patrolling off the coasts of Seattle, New York City, and San Diego. As U.S. war efforts mounted prior to World War II, Crotty began serving with the U.S. Navy as executive officer of the USS Quail, a minesweeping ship homeported out of the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines. 

It was here, at the 16th Naval District-in-Shore Patrol Headquarters that Crotty aided in the defense of Corregidor amidst a Japanese bombardment of the island. For weeks U.S. troops, including some who were under Crotty’s command, persevered against the odds, though eventually the Japanese offensive overpowered the American troops and Corregidor fell. 

The Japanese took Crotty prisoner and sent him to Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp where he passed away after contracting diphtheria on July 19, 1942. For decades Crotty remained one of only a handful of Coast Guardsmen in modern history to be classified as missing in action. This changed in 2019 when his remains were positively identified and subsequently sent to his family in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Despite what is publicly known about Crotty’s heroism there lies a story that has been seldom told. This is the story of Crotty’s personal life – the story of “Jimmy.”

“Jimmy was the star, the special one,” recalled Pat Crotty, Jimmy’s nephew, as his mind sifted through a compilation of family memories gathered over the years. 

Though too young to remember his uncle personally, Pat grew up inundated with firsthand stories of family members detailing who Jimmy really was. 

From an early age, Jimmy displayed a formidable confidence that allowed him to persevere through the challenges of being a first-generation Irish American growing up in the early 1900’s. 

“He was always an exceptional leader,” said Pat. “While he was a senior in high school he served as player and coach of his baseball team, leading them to the American Legion Jr. National Championship.” 

This inclination for leadership is what helped him earn his appointment to the Coast Guard Academy. 

Throughout all of these accomplishments Jimmy never lost touch with his family nor those around him. He maintained a welcoming demeanor that always made his presence desired. 

“He was the life of the party! And very personable,” expressed Pat. “My cousin Bill, who’s the only one old enough to remember him, remembers going to Grandma’s house while Jimmy was over. He said it was the happiest time.” 

More often than not, these happy times were accompanied by quite a bit of comedy as well. 

“Jimmy always knew how to make you laugh,” said Pat. Citing how Jimmy and his older brothers often role-played sports and politics in a satirical way for many years.

This legacy of laughter is something Pat still sees living on today. 

“His playfulness definitely stayed in the family,” Pat said. “Everyone can confirm that.” 

Members of the Crotty family gathered at the Coast Guard Academy for an inurnment ceremony commemorating Jimmy at the Columbarium on campus on Oct. 15. While the event held melancholic undertones indicative of a memorial service, after the ceremony, family members still sported those same playful, Jimmy-inspired smiles as they recounted their stories with cadets and staff alike. 

Reflecting on Jimmy’s life, Pat mentioned that if he were still here today, he would like Jimmy to know, “how proud our family is of him and how thankful we are to the Coast Guard for remembering him in so many ways.”