1932

Jim Joins The Navy

September 22, 1932
Timelines: Military Experience Jim Joins The Navy
September 22, 1932

He joined the Navy at age 19, primarily because it seemed the best way for him to earn a living. “Down deep in my sneaking heart I had a suspicion God might have some design on my life, but, like Jonah, I felt that by going to sea I would get away from Him for another four years,” Jim said.

1935

Jim Comes to Faith

January 1, 1935
Timelines: Military Experience Jim Comes to Faith
January 1, 1935

Jim’s shipmates introduced him to Dawson Trotman, who was just beginning to work among a small group of sailors in southern California, a ministry that would become known as The Navigators. “Through the combined influence of the five shipmates of mine whom Dawson had trained, I gave my life to Christ in April 1935,” Jim said, making him Navigator #6.

1941

Attack on Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941
Timelines: Military Experience
December 7, 1941

On Dec. 6, Jim and Morena and several others had overnighted at the DeGroff home. At 7:55 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, they heard on the radio, “The island of Oahu is under enemy attack,” which explained the vibrating ground and black smoke. The men hurriedly pulled on their uniforms and caught a ride to Pearl Harbor. As they rushed to the car Morena quoted, “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.” They didn’t know whether they would see each other again in this life. The West Virginia had been sunk and burned, along with all of the Downings’ money. The war was on.

1946

Adventure Abroad

January 1, 1946
Timelines: Military Experience Adventure Abroad
January 1, 1946

After the war ended, Jim wrote a letter resigning his commission and requesting discharge. But the Lord had other plans. Jim, as a gunnery expert, was asked to go to Venezuela after a military coup, so he canceled his request for discharge and took a crash course in Spanish. Another change in the government of Venezuela altered those plans, and he was sent to Brazil instead, to train military men. The family was not able to join Jim in Venezuela before the base at Rio was decommissioned.

1952

Capt of USS Patapsco

January 1, 1952
Timelines: Military Experience Capt of USS Patapsco
January 1, 1952

The family then moved to Hawaii as Jim left for Tokyo as Captain of the USS Patapsco, a fuel tanker ship. The Patapsco received radioactive contamination from being in the vicinity of the Bikini Islands during the H-Bomb test in 1954. After celebrating their third Christmas in Hawaii, Jim received orders to report to the Fleet Anti-Aircraft Training Center at Dam Neck near Virginia Beach, Virginia as an instructor and range officer in the Gunnery Department. During their time in Virginia, Morena taught a Bible class at a black segregated school in Virginia Beach.

1956

A Change of Plans

January 1, 1956
Timelines: Military Experience
January 1, 1956

In the spring of 1956, Dawson Trotman cornered Jim and twisted his arm relentlessly about leaving the Navy and joining Navigator staff. Since Jim was at the height of his Navy career, about to be promoted to LT CMDR and given command of a large ship, he was not receptive. During a special dinner Jim met Lorne Sanny for the first time and heard Dawson ask those present to pray that Jim would leave the Navy and join Navigator staff. Dawson was so adamant about this that he commented, “If it is a matter of money I almost feel like I should take a full-time job and turn the money earned over to the Downings so they could come with us full-time.” Jim left that dinner without giving Daws an answer.

Shortly after this Jim began a fifty-five day hospital stay for asthma symptoms which had made it increasingly difficult to perform his duties due to shortness of breath. The doctor thought it was serious enough for a physical disability discharge and the administrative wheels were set in motion. One day while in the hospital Morena said, “You are not ever going to get out of the hospital until you accept Dawson’s invitation.” Jim took her advice seriously and decided he would retire and leave the Navy after 24 years. Almost immediately his health began to improve. The Navy looked at his past record and proceeded with his physical disability discharge.

1956

A New Role With The Navigators

June 5, 1956
Timelines: Life & Family, Military Experience A New Role With The Navigators
June 5, 1956

On her way to Schroon Lake to meet Dawson, Lila Trotman made a visit to the Downing’s Virginia home on June 15, 1956. Jim told Lila to tell Daws that he would be coming to Schroon Lake to talk with him, but did not tell her why he wanted to see him. Jim’s plan was to tell Daws that they had decided the Lord wanted them to accept his invitation to come to Colorado Springs.

Jim took a week’s leave, and drove all night, arriving at Schroon Lake at 6:30 a.m. on June 18 and learned that Daws had drowned 15 hours before. The next day, Lorne Sanny arrived and stayed the rest of the week. Jim and Lorne rode together for six hours to New York City, and Lorne commented, “I have known for some time I would eventually inherit the responsibility for The Navigators. I have already decided that instead of a one man operation it would be a team operation. The Lord has given me the names of the men He wants to help me. You are one of them. How soon can you get out of the Navy and move to Colorado?” Lorne wanted Jim to take Glen Eyrie off his hands. He referred to Jim as the “utility fielder” who fills the most urgent needs. About four months later Jim was officially retired and the family headed for Colorado to serve as Lorne Sanny’s right hand man.

For 22 years, Jim served as Lorne Sanny’s deputy and also financial Vice President of The Navigators. He worked alongside other early Navigator leaders such as Bob Foster, Jerry Bridges, Rod Sargent, Doug Sparks, Waldron Scott, and Roy Robertson. And later he teamed with, among others, Jim Peterson, Jack Mayhall, LeRoy Eims, Skip Gray, and George Sanchez.

1956

Retirement From Navy

October 31, 1956
Timelines: Military Experience
October 31, 1956

On October 31, 1956 Jim was discharged from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant on 30 percent physical disability after 24 years of service.

1978

International Leadership

January 1, 1978
Timelines: Military Experience
January 1, 1978

In 1978, the Downings moved to London to head up the Europe, Middle East, and Africa regions for The Navigators for three years. He worked as a liaison, visiting the mission fields to encourage missionaries and exhort those in the trenches of ministry. January 1, 1978

1983

Retired, But Always A Navigator

January 1, 1983
Timelines: Military Experience
January 1, 1983

In 1983 Jim officially retired from The Navigators. He then took his incredible experience of military and ministry life and continued to pour into the next generation. He became the Collegiate Minister-at-Large and has ministered in Africa, Indonesia, Asia, Mexico, and many college campuses and military bases. Jim has noted that his longest term in any position is his “job” since he retired–26 years and counting! He served as the Collegiate Minister-at-Large until 2009, but continues to be part of The Navigators family, even today. As he works with soldiers, sailors and civilians alike, his unparalleled service leaves a legacy of faithfulness, no matter the cost.

2013

100th Birthday

August 22, 2013
Timelines: Life & Family, Military Experience 100th Birthday
August 22, 2013

In celebrating Jim’s 100th birthday, The Navigators presented him with this caricature by Colorado cartoonist Chuck Asay.

2016

Published “The Other Side of Infamy”

November 3, 2016
Timelines: Life & Family, Military Experience Published “The Other Side of Infamy”
November 3, 2016

In his latest book, The Other Side of Infamy, Jim reflects on his illustrious military career, including his experience during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to show how we can be people of faith during troubled times. Available at NavPress.com.

2016

Pearl Harbor 75th Commemoration

December 7, 2016
Timelines: Military Experience Pearl Harbor 75th Commemoration
December 7, 2016

Jim visits with sailors at a screening of the “Remember Pearl Harbor” documentary at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, while participating in commemoration events. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

2017

Celebrating Jim’s 104th Birthday

August 22, 2017
Timelines: Life & Family, Military Experience Celebrating Jim’s 104th Birthday
August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017