Lt. Downing spoke at the ‘Spirit of ‘45’ event at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park.
“The Japanese hit us with nine torpedoes. We were immobile and the ship was on fire. I saw bodies lying around. They were pretty badly shot up. Some were burnt beyond recognition. As the ship’s Post Master I had access to home addresses. I went to the ones who could speak and asked them what they wanted their families to know. Each one said: ‘Tell them I’m OK and I’ll see them shortly.' Most died soon after. But what I remember most, is their optimism—that and their bravery.”
Lt. Downing will turn 103 later this month.