As a young boy he broke through the clouds in the backseat of a
Stinson 105 for the first time. His pilot showed him the dream he
came to love.
Eugene Downey never truly came back down after
that and set his sights on becoming a flyer and joined the military.
April 23, 2017 - Eugene Downey, a U.S. Navy Korean War veteran
smiles while watching the 2017 Gulf Coast Salute on the Tyndall Air
Force Base flight line in Florida. Downey enlisted in the Navy in
1948 and received the rank of ensign in 1951, enabling him to become
a pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook)
“I was in the service from 1948 to 1952 and was sent to
Great Lakes, Illinois,” said Eugene Downey, U.S. Navy Korean
War Veteran. “I enlisted because I wanted to be a flyer. We
were all gunning for that after boot camp. After boot camp
we were sent to Corpus Christi, Texas for preflight
As Downey moved forward with his new
career, he looked to pursue a dream he had since he was a
“I’ve been a flying nut ever since I was
a little kid,” he said.
As he drew close to
achieving his childhood dreams, it was pushed outside of his
grasps by U.S. government budgetary constraints. But an
event of violence would put him back on his path.
“Well during that period, Congress cut appropriations for
the Navy so our whole group was washed out. But they told us
we could take any school we wanted,” Downey said. “So, I
took weather school. After training there, I went to
Memphis, Tennessee, I stayed there for a while, and when the
North Koreans invaded the South in 1950, I was told I could
go to flight school. They sent me down to Pensacola for
“After I got my wings in ’51, I was given
the ensign rank. We were then sent to Barbers Point, Hawaii
for some advanced training,” he added
Downey, now an
older gentleman, came to Tyndall with his family to
reminisce and see some of the Navy aircraft on display from
his time in service and some of the military’s newest
aircraft during the 2017 Gulf Coast Salute.
[Raptor], the F-35 [Lightning II], I am crazy about almost
all of ‘em. After the Navy, I worked in an air museum, and
I’ve flown some of the old P-38s, P-40s, P-51s, even in a
B-17,” he said. “But with what they have today – I mean
Although the technology of the day has changed,
one thing Downey noted as the same was the relationships
between the service members he saw as he visited the base.
Downey recalled the comradery he was familiar with in the
Navy while watching Airmen of this era working together to
make the event successful. It was something Downey would
“I miss the guys that I used to fly
with,” Downey paused, looked to the sky and recalled
memories of old friends. “Our ship was going to be put in
mothballs and eventually it was scrapped. I never saw any of
those guys again.”
As Downey reflected on his time
in the service, he could be seen mentally reliving his time
in the military and the fond memories of those he served
“We were all very close, we did just about
everything together,” Downey said. “Most of the guys I knew
were from all over the states, all a bunch of great guys.
That’s the one thing I loved about the service was the
closeness you have with your people. You don’t have that
outside of the service.”
“You live and breathe these
guys,” he concluded.
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Solomon Cook
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