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Had a Job to Do  

His ship was in flames.

His path was blocked.

But Jim Downing had a job to do.

Sprinting toward the harbor, he dodged machine gun bullets from an overhead fighter plane, and then slid across the five-inch gun barrel of a neighboring vessel to launch himself onto the inflamed deck of the battleship West Virginia.   December 7, 1941. 

If the gun magazines aboard Jim’s 624 foot long boat were to overheat from the fires, the explosions would be enormous.  So he grabbed a hose and aimed at the flames.  “Several times that day, I was sure I would shortly be in heaven,” Jim recalled. 

Once off the ship (which eventually sank) Jim circulated among the burned and bleeding memorizing dog tags, assuring these mortally wounded soldiers he would write their loved ones—which he did.

Exactly who was this fearless fighter?  Jim Downing of the United States Navy—second oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor.  In a rare moment, my son Tim and I got to meet and interview Jim this past December 14.

What’s it like to shake hands with a man who is 104 years old?  I wondered. Answer: Jim extended a manly meaty grip.  His reflexes and wit were off-the-charts fast.  For example, I asked if he remembered the Bible verse his wife quoted to him as he headed down to the embattled Pearl Harbor.  “Yes!  Deuteronomy 33:27—The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I confessed to Jim that had it been me, I would probably have run away from the burning ship that he risked his life to save.  He calmly replied, “On December 6th, I woke up with a job to do, and I did it.  On December 7th, I woke up with a different job to do—and I did it.”  No false humility.  Just the facts.  And Jim Downing had a long lifetime of jobs to do, including serving the Navigators organization for many years.

On February 13, almost exactly two months after our interview, Jim Downing went to heaven.  But his testimony lives on--and recalls the words of Jesus in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jim Downing lived that way.   Now numbered with the “great cloud of witnesses,” he bids us do the same


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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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