Oldest living vet to survive Pearl Harbor attack visits Cumberland County

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CARLISLE, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. -- The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Cumberland County welcomed a special guest Tuesday to check out its archives, a World War II vet with a story not many can tell.

There are 16 million military documents and artifacts at the U.S. Army Heritage Center, each one with a story of its own.

FOX43 news met a lieutenant who is one of a few people left to retell a key moment in american history, because he lived it.

December 7, 1941 is a date president Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would live in infamy. For Lt. Jim Downing, the oldest living WWII vet to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor, it's a date he'll never forget.

Lt. Jim Downing said "the thing that I remember the most, is how quick the time passed. It started before 8, and ended two-and-a-half-hours later. I looked at a clock, I thought it had been about 30 minutes passed."

Each picture in the archive collection may tell a thousand words, but only someone who lived through the attack can relive the moment.

"Most of it is pretty graphic in my mind, even 75 years after that," Lt. Downing said.

"I watched the ships being bombed, and blow up, caught fire, and the sinking, and that picture will never be erased from my mind," Lt. Downing added.

U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center Col. Pete Crean said "we try to bring life to the archival documents that we have, and to have somebody who was actually there is amazing. Now, it had to keep me on my toes, because I had to be right with a guy who could actually correct me."

Downing joined the Navy at age 19. He found himself fighting in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at age 28. It's quite a remarkable life for the 103-year-old lieutenant.

"I wouldn't change a thing. I'd probably behave differently under some circumstances, but as far as the general outline, it was perfect," Lt. Downing said.

With his life long military experience, the lieutenant has one piece of advice for all Americans.

"Remember, keep America strong, that's the only language that dictators and tyrants understand is strength," Lt. Downing said.

The U.S. Army Heritage Center is just one stop for the lieutenant as he travels around the country, sharing his story

"To meet a real Pearl Harbor survivor, who is able to travel and tell people their story is just one in a blue moon type of things. It's wonderful," Col. Crean said.

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