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Pearl Harbor survivor, author, ministry leader Jim Downing dies - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Pearl Harbor survivor, author, ministry leader Jim Downing dies at 104

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COLORADO SPRINGS -

Jim Downing, the second oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, passed away Tuesday at the age of 104.

Downing's family said he passed peacefully at his home in Colorado Springs Tuesday afternoon surrounded by his family.  Downing was recovering from heart surgery that happened several weeks before he died.

Downing moved to Colorado Springs after 24 years of service in the U.S. Navy, and had written several books about his life and military experience. 

His family issued the following statement Tuesday night:

"We are saddened to share the news that Lt James “Jim” Downing, the world’s second oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, passed away peacefully at his home in Colorado Springs this afternoon.  He was 104 years old.

Jim entered the Navy at the age of 19 and served on the USS West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  While under enemy attack he memorized the names of the fallen and wrote home to their parents letting them know their sons died as heroes.  After the attack he took down the last words of wounded sailors and sent them home to their parents.

Jim’s Naval career culminated with him becoming the commanding officer of the USS Patapsco from 1952 until 1955Jim served in the navy for 24 years before retiring to Colorado Springs.

In 2016 Jim wrote about his Pearl Harbor experience in “The Other Side of Infamy.”  The publication entered Jim into the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Oldest Male Author.

Although Jim was a hero to many, he always said those that didn’t make it home were the true heroes. 

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, Debra; 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 wife of 68 years, died in 2010.

In Jim’s own words “Remember Pearl Harbor.  Keep America Strong!”


Downing was born on August 22, 1913 in Oak Grove, Mo., a small community outside of Kansas City, Mo. He joined the Navy at 19 years old, his first assignment led him to the USS West Virginia where he was introduced to Dawson Trotman.

Trotman started a ministry that was later known as 'The Navigators', starting with a small group of sailors in Southern California. 

“Through the combined influence of the five shipmates of mine whom Dawson had trained, I gave my life to Christ in April 1935,” Jim said, making him Navigator #6.

Downing said he originally planned on going to law school and entering political office, but he said his vision shifted to the Lord.

He met his wife Morena through the ministry in Southern California. The couple was engaged on July 11, 1941, where they were then married in Hawaii."

Their lives were about to change drastically when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 149 days later. 

“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.” Downing said.

Downing's life like many others changed after that day, as he carried the bodies of fallen comrades off the West Virginia and wrote personal letters to each of the parents who lost a soldier. 


After 24 years in the Navy, Downing decided it was time to devote himself to the Navigators Ministry full-time, moving to Colorado Springs to work with the Navigators Ministry headquarters at Glen Eyrie.

He held a number of roles with the ministry as a supervisor, Military ministry director, treasurer, and headquarters manager.

“One of the biggest needs I saw for improvement was in our financial management. Lorne responded by making me financial vice president, which was the first administrative title I held,” Downing said.

Downing left Colorado Springs and moved his family to London, serving as a director of the Navigator ministry Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Downing retired in 1983, and traveled the world as a public speaker before eventually making his way back home to Colorado Springs.


When Downing turned 100 years old, he was honored with a large community celebration in Colorado Springs. 

Representative Doug Lamborn read a declaration into the the congressional recording honoring the Pearl Harbor survivors birthday. The beginning of the speech began, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today in honor of Jim Downing who will be celebrating his 100th birthday on August 22, 2013. Throughout his century of life, he loyally served the United States Navy, was a devoted husband and father and faithful to his Creator.”

Jim also received a letter of congratulations from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.


Memorial contributions can be made to The Future Generations Fund, in honor of Downing and his wife Morena. 

To send a contribution by mail please send to:

The Navigators

PO Box 6079

Albert Lea, MN 56007-6679

or call The Navigators Donor Services: (866) 568-7827.

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