NavPress author and Pearl Harbor survivor Lt.
Jim Downing passes away at 104-years-old
Author of The Other Side of Infamy Was Recognized by Guinness World Records as “Oldest Published Author” in 2017
CAROL STREAM, ILL. (February 14, 2018) – Jim Downing, the second-oldest known survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, passed away late yesterday afternoon in Colorado Springs, Colo. He’d undergone surgery in recent weeks, and was unable to rally. Downing was 104-years-old. Just last year, Guinness World Records recognized Downing as its “Oldest Male Author” as he was 102 years and 176 days when the final draft of his book, The Other Side of Infamy (NavPress, November 2016), was accepted for publication. This morning, Megyn Kelly on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” shared a very moving tribute to Jim and the impact that he recently had on her life: https://twitter.com/MegynTODAY/status/963822963790434304
“Jim continually amazed me. I met him when he turned 100! Imagine! He had the vim and vigor of my 50-something peers—perhaps more,” said Don Pape, Publisher, NavPress. “But what struck me more than his zest for life was his daily desire to serve his Lord and Savior in the moment. With nary a thought for tomorrow, he lived, serving God each day, maximizing each breath he took. It was a most certain honor to publish his book The Other Side of Infamy and introduce this great Christian citizen to a whole new generation. His character and his deep devotion to his Lord is most certainly a model for us all.”
Downing was born August 22, 1913, in Oak Grove, Missouri, a small community on the eastern outskirts of Kansas City. While his family moved around frequently during Jim’s early years, he spent most of his childhood in Plevna, Missouri, where his father owned a full service general store. At the time Jim left home for the Navy in 1932, he had never lived in a house with indoor plumbing or electricity.
Jim joined the Navy at age 19. The first ship he was assigned to was the USS West Virginia, where he served as gunner’s mate 1st class and postmaster. Jim later met his future wife, Morena, at a college graduation in 1940. She was the graduating class women’s speaker. They were married in July 1941 in Hawaii, where Jim was stationed. “The altar was covered with orchids for which we paid $10. The bill for the 55-guest banquet was $55.”
Just 149 days later, the Downings’ lives were turned upside down by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I lost everything I owned except the clothes on my back. The only money we had was the change in Morena’s purse. On Christmas Day, Morena left Hawaii on a passenger liner turned military transport. We would not see each other face-to-face for the next 18 months.”
Jim’s life would be forever linked to the “date which will live in infamy.” During the attack, with a fire hose in one hand, Jim memorized the name tags of the fallen around him so he could write a personal letter to each of their families.
Jim’s Navy career culminated with becoming the commanding officer of the USS Patapsco from 1952 until 1955, during the Korean War. While in hostile waters he was exposed to the equivalent of 470 dental x-rays over his entire body when radio-active ash from an “H” bomb being tested at Bikini Atoll covered his ship.
In 1956, after 24 years in the Navy, Jim went to work for The Navigators, a worldwide Christian ministry, with which he has been affiliated since its founding in 1933.
“My life’s ambition was changed when I became [founder Dawson’s Trotman’s] spiritual descendant,” Jim once said. “I had planned to attend law school and enter political office. After meeting Dawson, my life became all about availability to his Lord and mine.”
Jim officially retired in 1983, but in many ways his ministry was just beginning. His retirement allowed him to travel the world to speak and teach. His practical application of the Bible, his warmth and wit, made Jim a popular speaker, especially among college students.
Jim was also the author of three books, published by NavPress:
- Meditation (1976)
- Living Legacy: Reflections on Dawson Trotman and Lorne Sanny (2007).
- The Other Side of Infamy by Jim Downing, with James Lund, (2016).
The Navigators U.S. President Doug Nuenke says, “Jim was an influence among us for walking with God and having our life’s work flow from our knowledge of the Word and walk with Christ. Jim has influenced me by being a man who finished well—with a spirit of humility and faith, not demanding influence but having influence because all see the character of Jesus in his life.”
Jim is survived by six children, nine grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren, including his daughter Marobeth Ruegg; his son Jon Downing and his wife, Cheryl; son Joe Downing; son Don Downing and his wife, Deb; son David Downing and his wife, Crystal; and daughter Joy Riley and her husband, Mark. His son James died of a heart attack in 2013. Morena, his beloved wife of 68 years, died in 2010.
Visit jimdowning.net for more information on Jim’s life and ministry.
Jim Downing was born August 22, 1913 in Oak Grove, Missouri. He joined the Navy at age 19. The first ship to which he was assigned was the USSWest Virginia, where he served as gunner’s mate 1st class and postmaster. Jim later met his future wife, Morena, at a college graduation in 1940. During July of 1941, they were married in Hawaii, where Jim was stationed. Just 149 days later, the Downing’s lives were turned upside down by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During his life, Jim served admirably in the United States Navy, was a devoted husband for 68 years, and was a father to seven children. He lost his beloved wife, Morena, in 2010. In 2013, Jim was entered into the Congressional Record, with a special declaration by Colorado’s U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn. Today, at 104 years of age, Jim Downing is the second oldest known survivor of the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack that killed more than 2,400 Americans.
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