AFRH-W Resident Highlight
By Christine Baldwin, Librarian
Eugene Downs was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was one of seven children. All of his brothers served in World War II; Eddie with the U.S. Army, Ray with the U.S. Marines, Dick with the U.S. Navy and Bob at the tail end of the war with the German Occupation with the U.S. Army. Eugene is the only one who made a career of 22 years in military service and he chose the U.S. Navy. He started with ten weeks Basic Training at Great Lakes, IL and followed up with OGU at Camp Pleasant, CA. Eugene served aboard the USS Honolulu (CL-48) after the ship had been torpedoed and had lost 90 feet of her bow at Savo Island. After extensive repairs, it was off to support the war effort with various bombardment missions, including Bougainville, Guam, Saipan, Rota, Green and Georgia Islands and other islands. For recreation between missions, Eugene joined the Boxing team (he was in the Flyweight class) and the team went undefeated for two years.
In 1944, just off Mindoro, Eugene’s ship and several others, including three destroyers, were caught in a typhoon. Eugene remembers 70-80 feet waves. “I was too scared to be sick,” he said. A day and a half later, the ocean calmed and the fleet picked up about 200 survivors from the waters. Eugene also remembers while in the Philippines, a Japanese torpedo plane hitting them. He could see both pilots as they came in. It seemed to take forever, but in only a moment the torpedo was exploding. In total 70 men were killed. Another reminisce, on a positive note, is one of Eugene’s favorite memories. It was the day before the signing of the Japanese surrender. The water was as clear as glass and from the crow’s nest he could see ships from horizon to horizon. He even took some pictures of this sight. Some of Eugene’s other duty stations included Norfolk, VA; Newport News, VA; Jacksonville, FL (where he attended Fire Fighter Instructor School); and Great Lakes, IL (where he taught Fire Fighting at Basic Training). He was also in at the tail end of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and all of the Battle of Okinawa. Eugene also served aboard the USS Dixie (AD-14) during the Inchon Invasion in the Korean War. His last tours were Goodwill Tours of the Philippines and Japan.
After retirement, Eugene became the assistant manager of the Officer’s Club in Bremerton, WA and later at Moffett’s Field, CA for seven years. He then bought a bar in Mountainview, CA and added catering to his skills. Eugene then spent the next six years managing a bar he owned in Reno, NV. It was at this time that he started having heart attacks and was given two years to live. He went to Sacramento, CA because he heard they had a good heart program and ended up having a heart transplant from a fifteen year old youth named Jimmy Van Dusen. Jimmy’s father was a Baptist minister and Eugene is still close to the family and likes to say, “I am the only Irish Catholic with a Baptist heart, so they call me Gene the Baptist.” Eugene is now the oldest living heart transplant recipient and firmly believes in people participating in the organ donation program. He came to AFRH-W in 2015 after a friend reminded him about the place and the costs were getting more and more expensive in California. Eugene is active volunteering, along with Chuck Felder and Frank Lawrence, with groups that come in and need an orientation of the Home.