When Jim Downing was 28, he had already been in the Navy for nine years. He joked that the USS West Virginia was his multi-million-dollar home, paid for by Uncle Sam, but he happened to be off the ship on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He raced to the water, but by the time he got there the West Virginia had already taken multiple hits, and was in flames. He managed to get aboard via the neighboring USS Tennessee, so that he could try to keep the fire from reaching the lockers where live ammunition was kept.
It will be no surprise that those experiences stayed with Downing in the 75 years that followed. He is, at 103, the second-oldest known American veteran to have survived that day, and has spent much of his life reflecting on what he learned as a witness to one of history’s most infamous moments.
And joining us in our studio is Virgil Thill, one of the last surviving crewmen, who served aboard LCS 52 during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Also joining us will be Gary Burns, author of Shipmates, The Men of LCS 52 in World War II.