416th Bombardment Group (L)
Wayne Edward Downing
1st Lt., Pilot
November 11, 1919 - August 4, 2018
2911th, 668th and 670th Bombardment Squadrons (L)
Wayne Edward Downing, aka "Speed," died peacefully on August 4, 2018 at his home in Thousand Oaks, California. He was 98 years old.
One of the few remaining WWII combat pilots, he was born Armistice Day, now commonly known as Veteranís Day, on November 11, 1919, to Wayne Wallace and Doris (Selleck) Downing.
Wayne spent most of his youth in Duluth, Minnesota, before moving back to Iowa with his parents and younger brother, Norris Selleck Downing. After graduating high school in Sioux City, Iowa, he completed three years of college at Denver University before volunteering in the aviation cadet program. It was there that he quickly discovered his passion for flying. Later degrees were earned at Arizona University (B.S., 1958) and Maine University (M.Ed., 1963).
Wayne was a fiercely proud Air Force veteran. During WWII, he flew 86 combat missions from England and France as an A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader pilot of the 416th Bomb Group. While in Europe, he met Norma Raley Downing, a US Army nurse who landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, France in July 1944. They were married on October 20, 1944, in Cherbourg, France. For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 17 Air Medals, 6 ETO Battle Stars, and two Presidential Unit Citations.
After WWII ended, he continued his service to participate in Search and Recovery of Body Bones, Bombs and Aircraft crashes not yet recovered from the war with USS LST 711. Wayne continued serving during the Cold War flying B-47s among other aircraft until he was honorably discharged in 1962.
A natural mathematician, Wayne moved on to teach high school and community college math courses; however, his love of aviation was his true passion for the remainder of his life.
Wayne was mild-mannered, patient, generous, kind, and humble. He was a fixture in his Thousand Oaks neighborhood for 50 years and was affectionately regarded as an honorary grandfather to many of the neighborhood children.
Wayne is survived by his daughter, Nancy Downing (Therese Velasco); his granddaughter, Sara Downing (Jonathan Wall); sister-in-law, Ann Johnson (Jerry); niece, Norrie Jean Rawdon and nephew, Mark Johnson. He is preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Norma, his parents and his brother.
Services will be held Monday, August 13, at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks-Griffin Mortuary at 10 a.m.
Donations in his honor can be made to the 416th Bomb Group Archive.
Wayne Bean, Pallbearer
Bill Gaffney, Pallbearer
Thomas Gaffney, Pallbearer
Rick Lojek, Pallbearer
John Wall, Pallbearer
Jonathan Wall, Pallbearer
Wayne Edward Downing, 11 Nov 1919 ó 4 Aug 2018
by Wayne G. Sayles
My first exposure to Wayne Edward Downing was via the internet, in the waning days of 2005, as I was looking for information about William Edward Cramsie. Cramisie was a West Point graduate killed in action on his 4th combat mission and I had fortuitously stumbled upon his academy class ring. Driven by some unknown force, I searched for 416th Bomb Group information and among the returns the website of an art print publisher appeared. Wayne Downing was one of several signers on a very interesting but unrelated art print showing Allied planes enroute to France on D-Day. The description included a photo of Wayne and the fact that he had flown an A-20 attack bomber with the 416th in WWII and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Although there was no immediate link to Cramsie, I felt a strange attraction to this photo and saved the information amidst a growing mountain of information about the 416th. In fact, the image of Wayne Downing was burned indelibly in my mind. It was not long after that that I met Ray Jones, a 671st gunner living in Tulsa. Doris and I drove to Tulsa and met Ray and his wife for lunch. He invited us to attend the 2006 reunion of the 416th at Louisville and we accepted. It was at Louisville that we met Wayne Downing for the first time. He was there with his granddaughter Sara and it was like a Deja Vu moment when I saw him. We connected immediately and over the next decade became very close personally. It was a joy for me to meet and greet Wayne every year since then at the 416th Bomb Group reunions.
In 2008, I wrote and published a biography of Bill Cramsie and Wayne graciously read the draft. He was very supportive and after the book was released he invited me to his home in California where I met his wife Norma and spent several days video-taping Wayneís experiences with the 416th in WWII as well as his post war experiences searching for those KIA but unrecovered in the South Pacific. As a result, we have about 15 hours of video that is priceless to a historian or to an Archive, which is exactly what evolved from these kinds of experiences. We also talked at length about his years with Strategic Air Command flying the B-47 and B-52 bombers during the Cold War and about his days after military retirement when he was a teacher and participated in several government committees related to the military. After his active duty retirement, Wayne also served with the California Air National Guard in key leadership positions, rising to the rank of Colonel.
Both Wayne and I were Life Members of the 9th Air Force Association (his 9th AF service in 1944/45 and mine in 1965/66). We attended three of the 9th AF Association reunions together, traveling on one occasion by auto from Gainesville, Missouri to Cincinnati, Ohio and back. We shared rooms on these occasions and obviously became well acquainted. In 2013, at the 416th reunion in Gainesville, Missouri hosted by the 416th Archive, the veterans voted to include me as an honorary veteran of the 416th and Command Pilotís Wings were pinned on my Air Force uniform by none other than Colonel Wayne Downing. It was the proudest moment of my own military experience, which had many singular moments of satisfaction to raise that bar.
In addition to visiting us at Gainesville for two reunions of the 416th, Wayne visited on two other occasions, staying with us at our country home. On one occasion, he was here when the local Christmas Parade was held and Wayne was honored by the community on a float with the local pageant queen contestants. He was literally surrounded by a bevy of beauties. Afterward, he commented that it was the first parade he had ever been in.
Losing Wayne Downing is a heart-breaker. I respected him and admired him as a soldier and I loved him as a person. He was a kindred spirit and will always be in my thoughts going forward. My heart aches for his family. The last years have been tough and they have stood beside him. We should all be so blessed to share the life that Wayne Downing lived and the accomplishments that he left for a stepping stone to future greatness.
"Goin' Home" courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Band