James Downey Jr., who survived the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942 and became an inspiration to his family, died Monday. He was 96 years old.
Downey served with the Army's 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts, a decorated unit that still rode horses into battle in the early days of World War II. Half-Filipino by birth, his mother was of Philippine and Spanish heritage and his father was from Augusta County, a cavalry officer who fought in the Spanish-American War.
News of his death came from family members.
In 1942, Downey was a young soldier in the prime of life, six years removed from a tryout on the 1936 U.S. Olympic swim team, when Japanese soldiers captured him on April 9. He was put in line with thousands of other prisoners and ordered to start walking. The rule was simple, he recalled. If you stop, you die.
The forced march to a Japanese POW camp covered 60 miles and lasted five days. For a time, Downey carried his little brother, Robert, who survived the march but ultimately died of sickness.
By some estimates, 11,000 men died.
But his determination in surviving one of the darkest chapters in American military history was not lost on his family. His son, Gary Downey, said the themes of never giving up and always helping a brother were impressed upon the children at an early age. "The journey that happened to him on Bataan, it still continues for him," Gary said.
James Downey retired from the Army in 1963 as a master sergeant.
--See you at the Green, James.
Halfway down the trail to Hell,
In a shady meadow green
Are the Souls of all dead troopers camped,
Near a good old-time canteen.
And this eternal resting place
Is known as Fiddlers' Green.
Marching past, straight through to Hell
The Infantry are seen.
Accompanied by the Engineers,
Artillery and Marines,
For none but the shades of Cavalrymen
Dismount at Fiddlers' Green.
Though some go curving down the trail
To seek a warmer scene.
No trooper ever gets to Hell
Ere he's emptied his canteen.
And so rides back to drink again
With friends at Fiddlers' Green.
And so when man and horse go down
Beneath a saber keen,
Or in a roaring charge of fierce melee
You stop a bullet clean,
And the hostiles come to get your scalp,
Just empty your canteen,
And put your pistol to your head
And go to Fiddlers' Green.