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Rachel Riley, The GazetteOctober 21, 20174min560

A Colorado Springs thoroughfare that for months was a jumble of traffic drums and restricted lanes will now pay tribute to a beloved local Pearl Harbor survivor, retired Navy Lt. James “Jim” Downing.

The new Interstate 25 bridge over Cimarron Street will forever bear his name.

Downing, 104, is one of the oldest living survivors of the attack, which left more than 2,400 people dead.

“Everybody is a hero in my estimation,” he told a small crowd at the ceremony. “I accept this honor on behalf of those veterans and everyone who deserves to have their name on the bridge.”

The structure is part of a $113 million revamp of the interchange that’s been in the works for more than two years.

During the last legislative session, both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly unanimously passed a bill making Downing the bridge’s namesake. The measure was signed into a law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.

“Many have said that the Cimarron bridge serves as the gateway to our city -0 all the more reason it’s fitting to name it after Jim Downing, who so well encompasses the values of Colorado Springs,” said state Rep. Dan Nordberg, a Republican from Colorado Springs who co-sponsored the bill. “I’m glad we can finally honor him in the same way he’s honored us all these years.”

Downing was ashore when Japanese fighters and bombers struck the Hawaiian base on Dec. 7, 1941. Then a sailor aboard the USS West Virginia, he found the ship aflame and sinking after it was struck by a barrage of torpedoes. He slid down the gun barrel of another ship to board his own, where he fought to keep the fire from spreading. He memorized the names of the dead and wounded, later writing their families.

Downing recounts his experience, and the role his faith played, in his third book, “The Other Side of Infamy.”

Of the roughly 84,000 men and women who survived the tragedy, Downing is one of only about 2,000 that remain. He is also one of the original members of the prominent Colorado Springs-based ministry, The Navigators.

He began with light-hearted remarks at the ceremony, relaying a story from his childhood: On a week-long road trip from Missouri to Florida in his family’s Ford Model T, his father pieced together maps to navigate dirt roads. But what the map didn’t show was that many of the creeks and streams they would need to cross had no bridges, Downing said.

“So I probably appreciate bridges more than any of you,” he said, eliciting a few laughs from the audience.

The structure is part of a $113 million revamp of the interchange that’s been in the works for more than two years.

“We all need effective transportation in our communities and we are always grateful to those who have protected our country from threats,” said El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, whose district includes the interchange, said during the ceremony. “What a great day to acknowledge both of these.”

While the interchange is now fully functional, there’s still some landscaping work left to be done, said Michelle Peulen, a regional spokeswoman for CDOT. In addition to highway improvements, the effort has included work on pedestrian bridges and trails in the area, as well as reconstruction of part of Upper Fountain Creek.

The project will be finished by the end of the year, Peulen said.


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