Pearl Harbor survivor speaks at Fayetteville ceremony

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 1:07 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE James Downing, a 104-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II and Korean War Navy veteran, speaks Thursday alongside assistant Larry Watkins and Bryan Matthews, medical center director, during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. A native of Oak Grove, Mo., Downing is thought to be the second oldest living survivor of the attack that served to propel the United States' involvement in the war.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The second oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor in the United States advised younger generations to keep America strong during his speech Thursday to a packed auditorium at Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.

Lt. Jim Downing, 104, from Oak Grove, Mo., was aboard the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked. He said his first reaction was surprise. That feeling turned to fear, then anger and then an overwhelming sense of pride in how everyone around him jumped into action.

Veterans Day

Events planned in Northwest Arkansas include:

• Ceremony, 11 a.m. today, Becky Paneitz Student Center, Room 108, NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The public is welcome to attend.

• The Marine Corps Birthday Ball, 6 p.m. today, Holiday Inn in Springdale. The ball is open to all. Tickets are $45 per person or $360 for a table for eight. For more information, go to www.NWAMarineCorpsLeague.com.

• Veterans Day Parade, 10 a.m. Saturday. The parade will start at Fast Lanes on Dixieland Road in Lowell.

Source: Staff report

"Survivors have a motto: 'Remember Pearl Harbor and keep America alert', and I like to add to that 'Keep America strong,'" Downing said. "We have a duty to keep America so strong in cyberspace, in the skies, on the ground, on the seas. So strong that no aggressor will think about attacking us."

At the beginning of Thursday's Veterans Day observation, 11 flags from America's history were presented preceding the presentation of the modern American flag.

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This served as a fitting backdrop as Army Lt. Col. Ronald Butler spoke about the history and meaning of Veterans Day. Butler served for 33 years, including in the Vietnam War.

In 1919, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, which was intended to acknowledge those Americans who served in World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday in 1938.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 to change the name to Veterans Day as a way to honor those who served in all American wars. There are 18.5 million military veterans in the United States, according to the 2016 American Community Survey estimate.

Butler said Veterans Day is a one of reflection and gratitude, not celebration or memorial.

"Some veterans report being tired of the obligatory, 'Thank you for your service.' I personally don't. I appreciate it," Butler said.

More than 225,100 veterans live in Arkansas, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Charles Windham said he and many of the men in his family have served in the military.

"I want everybody who is able to serve to keep the flag free with honor," he said. "I believe in this flag, and I believe in this country."

NW News on 11/10/2017