September 19, 2017
“By the time I got back to my ship, it was already sinking and on fire,” said Jim Downing, the 104 year-old Pearl Harbor and World War veteran – the second oldest still alive.
Invited by the UCCS Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs and the Gerontology Club, Downing answered questions from the full room in the University Center Sept. 12.
Downing visited the campus last April as well.
His visit was applauded enthusiastically, and ended with a standing ovation.
Downing is the author of “The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey Through Pearl Harbor & The World War.”
Stationed on the West Virginia battleship, Downing said that he was on shore when he first heard the explosions and the radio alerts about the attacks. He said that 104 others stationed on the ship died that morning. In total, there were 419 casualties. There were about 86,000 military personnel stationed on Oahu at the time.
“I was angry at the way our leadership let us down,” Downing said, summarizing his experiences Dec. 7, 1941.
Along with anger, Downing said he experienced surprise, fear, resolve and pride.
“Without leadership, without training, everybody instinctively did the right thing,” he said.
“If the Department of Defense decorated everyone who deserved it, there would have to be an ore mine in Utah, a cotton plant in Texas and a dye factory in New York to be able to produce the materials needed for all those medals.”
Inspired by the anger he felt toward the inactions of his leaders on the day of the attack, Downing has started a campaign to require all strategic military decision makers to have had direct combat experience. Leaders without combat experience are too optimistic, he said.
He also said, in response to an audience question, that the biggest threats to the U.S. today are China, North Korea and Russia.
When asked what he has to say about forgiveness, Downing said that he resents the war for taking time out of his life, but that since then, he’s noticed that it’s natural for people of other denominations and races to love each other.
“Hatred and killing is not inherent in people,” he said.
Twelve years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Downing met the commander who led the attack, and shook his hand.
“After talking with him, I was convinced that he was genuine in his repentance, so my thought was, ‘if God can forgive him, who am I not to?’”