Bridge named for Colorado Springs WWII veteran

DENVER (KKTV) - The Colorado House and Senate unanimously approved a resolution to name the Interstate 25 Cimarron Bridge in Colorado Springs after Lt. James Downing, an American hero.

Downing, 103, of Colorado Springs, is the world's second oldest Pearl Harbor survivor.

State Rep. Dan Nordberg presented the house joint resolution. State Rep. Tony Exum is also a sponsor.

In 1932, at the age of 19, Lt. Downing enlisted in the United States Navy, serving as Gunner's Mate 1st Class and postmaster aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia in Long Beach, CA. During his time in California, Lt. Downing met his wife, Morena and the two were married just one month after the couple was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, while hosting breakfast for several servicemen at their home on base, Lt. Downing, his wife and his guests heard the sound of explosions in the distance. Seconds later, an anti-aircraft shell landed right outside their home, exploding and creating a large crater 25 feet across.

Realizing they were under attack, Lt. Downing and his fellow servicemen immediately raced to their ships. Lt. Downing's ship, the U.S.S. West Virginia was in flames and sinking by the time he arrived.

Running towards danger, Lt. Downing slid down the gun barrel of another ship, the U.S.S. Tennessee, to board the U.S.S. West Virginia, where he fought to keep the fire from spreading to live ammunition lockers and save his fellow servicemen.

Lt. Downing memorized the names of his fellow servicemen during the attack and later wrote personal letters to their families to let them know that he was with them in their final moments.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lt. Downing remained in the Navy for another 16 years.