Pearl Harbor survivor speaks to Air Commandos

Retired Navy Lt. Jim Downing addresses Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 10, 2017.

Retired Navy Lt. Jim Downing addresses Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 10, 2017. Downing is the second oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor and travels the country sharing his story. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Yates)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- “How do we react to anything out of our comfort zone? With resiliency.”

At 104 years old, retired Navy Lt. Jim Downing, the second oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, understands what it takes to overcome adversity, as he told his life story during a special event here, Aug. 10, 2017.

He can remember the morning of December 7, 1941 like it was yesterday. He was eating breakfast with his newly wedded wife when the bombs began to drop, and, without hesitation, Downing raced towards his ship, the USS West Virginia, to help his brothers in arms.

He remembers how fast time moved that historic morning. Fighting for hours felt like only minutes.

Downing recalls a mixture of emotions from that morning ranging from surprise to fear, fear to anger and then a sense of pride.

“Pride came in because our people responded so magnificently with what they had,” he said. “Innovation, risk - there were a lot of heroes there that morning.”

Not only did the 24-year Navy veteran survive the Pearl Harbor attack, but he and his team were caught in a radioactive ash storm stemming from the Castle Bravo nuclear detonation, the largest such explosion ever produced from an American bomb.

These experiences have shaped Downing for decades. He now speaks to audiences across the country about how resiliency and spirituality got him through the incredibly unpredictable hardships in life.

Much like Air Commandos, Downing embodied readiness, relevance and resiliency.

“Through adversity comes resilience,” he said. “Adversity leads to not only personal strength, but personal transformation.”

Downing visited Hurlburt Field to spread his message of strength and resiliency. While most Air Commandos will never experience something as colossal as the fallout from a 15-megaton nuclear bomb, they are likely to encounter a situation that will require them to be resilient.

Air Commandos are quietly making sacrifices every day to answer our nation’s call of guarding freedom and justice.

“Keep America so strong that enemies won’t even think about attacking us,” said Downing.

Editor’s note: Information from a Denver Post article was used in this story.