Cimarron bridge now named for the 2nd-oldest Pearl Harbor survivor

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The biggest bridge in Colorado Springs now bears the name of a true American hero.

A crowd gathered at America the Beautiful Park Friday morning to celebrate the newly-christened Lt. James "Jim" Downing Bridge.

"This is a very special honor," said the always-humble Downing, 104, who told 11 News he was accepting the tribute on behalf of all veterans.

Downing, the second-oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was at his home on the base when he heard the attack.

"Jim made the hectic drive to the harbor, and as he was in route, a plane swooped down behind him and opened fire. He saw the rising sun on its wing and immediately knew they were under attack," said state Rep. Dan Nordberg during Friday's dedication. "Upon arriving at Pearl Harbor, he encountered thick black smoke and no clear way to get to his ship, the USS West Virginia. Eventually, he found a path -- albeit, a very clever one.

"He jumped on the adjoining USS Tennessee and slid down its gun barrel and landed on the deck of the USS West Virginia. ... As soon as he landed on the USS West Virginia, he grabbed a hose to put out fires that otherwise would have made their way to the ship's munition locker. His efforts and actions prevented additional catastrophic explosions and unquestionably saved countless additional lives."

Nordberg pointed at a replica of the USS West Virginia and told the crowd to look at the gun barrel "and understand what Jim did."

"It is nothing short of incredible," Nordberg said.

With one crisis averted, Downing immediately moved on to the next: tending to the injured and mortally wounded.

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

Nordberg sponsored the resolution earlier this year to name to I-25 and Cimarron bridge after Downing, a long-time Colorado resident. The resolution passed unanimously in both the Senate and the House.

Downing downplayed his heroics Friday, telling 11 News the bridge was taking his name largely "because I'm a veteran."

"Everyone who has served is a hero in my opinion," Downing told 11 News. "I accept this on their behalf."