United States

Second Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivor Honored at Coronado Parade

Lt Downing was serving on the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor

A special guest made an appearance at the Fourth of July Parade in Coronado Tuesday: the world's second oldest Pearl Harbor survivor.

Lieutenant Jim Downing is 103-years-old. He served on the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

At the time of the attack, Lt. Downing was with his wife in the married quarters on the base. Lt. Downing saw and heard the attack, jumped in his car and headed to his ship to help fight off the Japanese. 

When he arrived at the harbor he saw there was no way to reach his ship. So he jumped on the USS Tennessee, slid down its gun barrel and landed on the deck of his ship, the USS West Virginia.

The USS West Virginia was hit with nine torpedoes and caught on fire. Lt. Downing immediately grabbed a fire hose to try and put out the fires. He says there was ammunition on board that could cause even more explosions.

While fighting the fire, Lt. Downing noticed the bodies of his fellow sailors lying on the deck. With one hand still holding the fire hose, he went to the bodies of the fallen and started memorizing names from their dog tags. He later wrote home to their parents letting them know their sons died as heroes. 

Later that afternoon, after the fire on the USS West Virginia was out, Lt. Downing headed to the hospital to check on his friends who were badly burned in the attack. He brought along a notepad and pencil and took down personal messages from the sailors to send home to their parents.

Many of those sailors died that night, but Lt. Downing made sure their final words were sent home.

Lt. Downing still travels around the United States to schools, businesses, military bases and more, so he can speak about the attacks and his military experience.

The Guinness Book of World Records is currently researching him as the world's oldest living male author. His book, The Other Side of Infamy, was published last November and details his Pearl Harbor experience and military career.

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