The second-oldest Pearl Harbor survivor visited the ship’s mast during a ceremony at West Virginia University’s Oglebay Plaza on Friday, where he also had the opportunity to ring the ship’s bell.
Lt. Downing, now 104-years-old, was only 27-years-old when the U.S.S. West Virginia sank at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Standing before the mast Friday, Downing said it appeared much different than the last time he saw the structure.
“It had a super structure around it that we called a caged mast,” he said. “I’d never seen it stripped down so much. There were stairways going up. It was a long climb to the top.”
The last that Downing had seen the mast was as the U.S.S. West Virginia was on fire and sinking after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
“On the morning of Dec. 7, this mast didn’t do us a lot of good,” he said. “The purpose of the mast on a ship was an observation tower. We didn’t have radar. All we knew was what we could see with the eye.”"