Second-oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor shares memories of De - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Second-oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor shares memories of Dec. 7, 1941

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At 104-years-old, Lieutenant Jim Downing is the second-oldest living survivor of the attack. (FOX5) At 104-years-old, Lieutenant Jim Downing is the second-oldest living survivor of the attack. (FOX5)
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On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,000 people. At 104-years-old, Lieutenant Jim Downing is the second-oldest living survivor of the attack. He served as Gunner's Mate First Class and postmaster on the USS West Virginia, and although it's been 76 years, Lt. Downing said he remembers everything from that day.

“The Japanese attacked with 360 planes. Seventy-six years ago, there were no satellites and radar wasn't trusted, so it was not only a complete surprise, it was a complete shock. We did not know they were Japanese planes until we saw them with the rising sun pasted under the wing,” Lt. Downing said, “The first Japanese plane I got close to, when he got at the right angle, he had cut loose with his machine guns. Fortunately, he didn't make over far enough and the bullets went over my head and dug a trench in the dirt behind.”

Downing said he was off his ship when the attack began, but sprang right into action.

“In order to get back on my ship, I slid down a gun barrel from the Tennessee to my ship. Borrowed a fire hose from the Tennessee and tried to keep the flames from igniting the ammunition,” Lt. Downing said.

The ship was on fire and had been hit by nine torpedoes.

“I saw the bodies lying around. I wondered how many of them I knew and whether they'd just been knocked unconscious or whether they'd been killed."

He memorized the name tags of each body on the ship so he could notify their families, and then he went to the hospital.

“Many of their bodies were so badly burned that they didn't survive the night. So I took a notebook and said, 'Now these are people that I do not know, if you will give me your parents' address and dictate a short letter, I'll see that they get it,” Lt. Downing said, “I wanted to tell them, at their last moments their sons were heroes.”

He said that day, they shot down 29 Japanese planes and damaged 74, doing all they could to protect our country.

“Everybody was a hero and our men without training without leadership, instinctively did the right things,” Lt. Downing said.

On Thursday, he said he wants Americans to keep one thing in mind. It’s something President Reagan said in a speech in the '80s.

“Weakness invites aggression, so the only answer is to keep America strong,” Lt. Downing said.

Lt. Downing wrote about all of this in his new book The Other Side of Infamy.  He was named the Guinness Book of World Records oldest living male author.

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