Lt. Jim Downing, the second oldest living survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II, passed away at the age of 104 last week.
Downing, who joined the Navy at 19 years old and devoted 24 years to the branch, was serving aboard the USS West Virginia the morning of December 7, 1941. That date, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put so eloquently, would go on to live in infamy, as Japanese bombers and attack aircraft swooped down from the clouds in a surprise attack that claimed the lives of some 2,400 Americans. The U.S. Navy lost 18 ships that day, and found itself reluctantly thrust headlong into the largest conflict the world had ever seen.
In 2016, Downing returned to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the attack, recounting for a crowd of service personnel and civilians the harrowing events that unfolded that day, Downing, who was serving as a gunner’s mate first class, was eating breakfast when the first of nine torpedos ripped through the hull of his ship.
“Nine [torpedoes] hit the West Virginia — and we sunk pretty quickly after that — and everything above the waterline was on fire,” he recalled. More than a hundred sailors died as the West Virginia went down.