WASHINGTON – He’s braved fires and bombings as an American soldier – and this week, Lt. Jim Downing of Colorado Springs, is taking on Capitol Hill.
At 101, Downing is the oldest-known Pearl Harbor survivor.
“Pearl Harbor was the most traumatic experience because we were caught by surprise, and all of our weapons were useless that morning,” Downing says.
Downing helped fight fires aboard the USS West Virginia and rescued men from his ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Now, Downing is dressed in uniform again. He’s attending the president’s State of the Union address as Senator Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) guest.
“It is incredibly important that we are in touch with people who have served this country and have acquired wisdom that those of us who have not served or were not around during World War Two have not acquired,” Bennet said.
Downing is sharp, and has a smile that lights the room. Even at 101, he’s feeling good.
“Being 101 is not much different than being 81. I’m glad to be 101 because I make contacts with people that otherwise I wouldn’t,” he says.
This isn’t the first time Lt. Downing’s been to the State of the Union Address. He attended in the 1960’s when John F. Kennedy gave the address.
There aren’t any WWII veterans left in Congress, so it’s up to heroes like Downing to share their message with lawmakers.
“My message to this generation and next generation is weakness invites aggression. Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America strong,” Downing says.