Pearl Harbor survivors honored in Colorado Springs

By Carol McGraw Updated: December 8, 2013 at 2:25 am • Published: December 7, 2013 | 6:25 pm 0
photo - 100-year-old Jim Downing of Colorado Springs, who was a Navy lieutenant serving on the US. Wes Virginia. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
100-year-old Jim Downing of Colorado Springs, who was a Navy lieutenant serving on the US. Wes Virginia. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

The two old warriors slowly struggled to their feet Saturday for the posting of colors to honor their comrades, the 2,402 who were killed in the Japanese air attack 72 years ago on Pearl Harbor.

One-hundred?year-old Jim Downing and ninety- year-old Douglas Huggins, both of Colorado Springs, are two of only eight Pearl Harbor survivors living in Colorado. Downing is thought to be the oldest survivor in the U.S.

More than 200 people gathered to honor them during the Pearl Harbor commemoration hosted by the U.S. Navy League at the Regional Building Department.

It was a tearful patriotic ceremony punctuated by laying of service wreaths, playing of taps and a talk by Navy Rear Admiral Kerry M. Metz of the U.S. Northern Command.

"Time heals wounds, but those who particIpated remember it like it was yesterday," Metz said.

When the ceremony was over, the two survivors were treated like rock stars by kids asking for authographs and photos with them.

Downing and Huggins shook their hands, hugged them, and told them of that long ago time that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "a day of infamy."

Huggins was a seaman first class that day.. He was on the USS St. Louis , which was not damaged. "If it had been a half hour later I would have been on the Arizona. I was supposed to go there. But then it was hit. I lost a lot of friends who died there," he said after the ceremony.

Ten-year-old Kooper Laneheld out a program for their signatures.. "I'm going to join the Marines," he said proudly.

Huggins replied, "That's good. I hope you carry it on. They don't tell about Pearl Harbor anymore in school. The spirit isn't there."

Jimmy Paladino explained that he brought his son Presley to the event because he didn't want this generation to forget.

Ret. Navy Lt. Jim Downing, who spent 24 years in service. was on shore having breakfast with his wife when the attack came, he said.

He rushed back to his ship, the USS West Virginia, which had just been hit with two 200-pound bombs and five torpedoes, killing 107 men.

"I helped put the fire out and remove the dead and tending to the wounded. I spent a lot of the time memorizing the names of the fireproof ID tags of the dead so we could use that information later. Many of them were friends."

Downing has not forgotten.

"I still think of all of them today," he said. "I hope they are in heaven. I'll probably see them soon."

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371. Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook: Carol McGraw

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