He’s over 100-years-old and one of the few remaining survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jim Downing, who served on the USS West Virginia, shares his firsthand experience from the ‘date which will live in infamy.’
“The main damage was done in the first 11 minutes of the attack. Of the 105 that were killed on the West Virginia, 70 of them were below decks. Since our guns were not operating, I borrowed a fire hose from a ship next to us, the USS Tennessee, and tried to keep the fires from exploding new ammunition.”
Jim shares his reflections during the attack as he noticed that many of his shipmates had just lost their lives.
“I looked around, saw these bodies, and my thought was their parents will never know the details of how they spent the last hours on earth.”
“We had fire-proof named tags and lanyards so with a fire hose in one hand, I went around memorizing the names of the people that had been killed with the view of sending an account of each one of them to their parents. I was the postmaster of the ship at that time so I had access to their parent’s address, so that is what I did during the latter part of the attack.”
He describes what he wrote inside of the letters to parents.
“I may have exaggerated a bit, but I told their parents how heroic they were, fighting right up to the last minute. Everybody that morning was a hero. Without any thought about their own lives, they tried to help others that needed help. I told their parents that they can be very proud of their sons defending their ship and their shipmates.”
The natural impulse for humans is to run from an attack, but Jim along with his shipmates ran towards the attack. He reflects back on his thought process the morning of December 7th, 1941.
“I was off the ship temporarily. When I got word that it was under attack, it never occurred to me to turn the other way or hide. I had been trained to fight; I had been paid to fight, so my thought was I’ve got to get busy and do what I’ve been trained to do and what the American people expect out of it. The idea of avoiding combat never even occurred to me or any of the people I knew.”
Jim’s journey through Pearl Harbor paints a sobering picture of courage, faith and undeniable heroism in the midst of one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil.
Jim Downing survived the sinking of the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, and was commander of the Navy ship USS Patapsco during the Korean war. In 1956, Jim retired from the Navy to join The Navigators staff in Colorado Springs, CO. During the next 22 years Jim served the Navigators in many capacities, including deputy president and chairman of the board of directors. Jim continues disciplining others from his home just outside the Navigator headquarters.The Other Side of Infamy