Some of the most powerful stories come from those who have served in the armed forces. They’ve shown allegiance, heroism and determination.
This first story recognizes a very special person who served in the U.S. Army.
Park Hills resident Darby Ross Downey, 104, tried to join the U.S. Army when World War II broke out. But he was turned down in December 1941 because he is blind in his right eye.
So, he married his sweetheart, Yvette Bullock, on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1942. He was called into the service for light duty just three months later on Sept. 7, 1942, at age 24.
Downey was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, just northeast of Indianapolis. He served in the Ordnance Corps, whose mission was to procure, maintain and issue Army combat units with weapons and ammunition, vehicles, equipment, and more.
Downey’s rank was Technician fifth grade, or T/5. (This rank was used from 1942 to 1948 and recognized enlisted soldiers with special technical skills but who were not trained as combat leaders.)
While stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Downey worked at the reception center which is where the newly enlisted soldiers underwent their health assessment.
“I was dedicated to take new recruits through all of the things they had to do, including getting their clothes, haircuts and shots,” said Downey. “Then after that, they were graded and taken care of. A lot of times I was sent with a group of them to their future camp.”
Downey made trips to Texas, Florida and California. He traveled with the new recruits, left them at their new base, and traveled back to Fort Benjamin Harrison where he met a new group.
He spent two years in Indiana before being sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he went through more training. He spent about six months in Missouri.
“Then I was attached to a reception company,” said Downey. “I was put out to work doing different things. One thing was they gave me about eight German POWs. One of them could speak English. So, my group did some work around the camp. We started out by laying these flat rocks in a ditch to keep it from washing.”
Next, Downey was sent to Fort Jackson, S.C. While stationed there, his wife Yvette gave birth to their first child, Jeannie, in Illinois. Later, Yvette and Jeannie traveled by train to South Carolina so Downey could meet his newborn daughter.
“The Army just passed me around and finally attached me to this Ordnance Company,” he said.
He was sent to the state of Washington where he was stationed for about two weeks. Then the soldiers were sent on a ship in the Pacific Ocean.
“We stopped at Hawaii on our way to Japan,” Downey said. “We stopped at another island before we got to where we were going just south of Japan.”
Once they arrived at their destination, Downey completed a variety of jobs including driving a truck and pulling a trailer to obtain water from the water station for soldiers to bathe. He retrieved supplies and more.
“The island I was on had an airbase,” he said.
He recalled a big storm in the Pacific while he was stationed on the island. The storm was so strong that it stopped all shipments for about four weeks.
“We didn’t get any food, so we ate a lot of one thing,” he said. “We were getting low on food when finally about the middle of it we got a shipment of pork chops and that’s what we had for breakfast, dinner and supper.”
Downey left the Pacific in January 1945 to return to Washington. Then he was sent briefly to Indiana and was discharged from there.
“They gave us a big speech that they’d like for us to join up again,” he said, “but I wasn’t ready for that.”
He was discharged from the U.S. Army in January 1946 after nearly four years of service. He was beyond thrilled to be heading home. When he left Camp Atterbury in Indiana, he was given a bus ticket to St. Louis. Once he arrived in St. Louis, he had no way to get home. Fortunately, one of his fellow soldier’s parents was picking him up so they offered Downey a ride into Illinois.
“That was a ride,” he said. “During the trip, the lights went out on the car, but they finally came back on.”
From there, he hitchhiked and walked the rest of the way to his wife’s family’s home of Charles and Ella Bullock in Chester.
“I knocked on the door and my family wanted to know who was at the door,” he said. “I just said who I was and of course they were all in bed. When we got settled down a little bit and went to bed, Jeannie got in bed in between us. She didn’t really know who I was because she was only 1.”
This homecoming was unexpected for Downey’s family because they had not received the telegram that he’d sent stating he had been discharged and was on his way home.
The next day, the family cooked a big meal and celebrated Downey’s unexpected yet joyous and safe return home.
Downey’s parents Alden and Edna had two other sons, Arthur Glenn and Benjamin David. All three brothers joined the military, with Darby in the Army and Arthur and Benjamin in the Navy.
“My parents had three sons and all three went to war,” said Downey. “I was the oldest. Art went to the Pacific, and Ben was stationed in San Francisco to help keep the subs [submarines] out.”
Although Downey wasn’t directly involved in combat, he did experience a great loss. His best friend was killed in action in Germany.
After Downey returned home from the service, he was happy to return to his family.
“After I got back from the service and got back to my wife and baby, everything else just washed away,” he said.
The Downey’s son Ross was born in 1952.
After his service in the military, Downey worked as a surveyor for about five years with an oil exploration crew and then with another company for about 10 years.
The family moved to Missouri when Downey got a job with the state’s new interstate projects started.
“We moved to Missouri about two weeks before Thanksgiving in 1961,” said Downey.
He went to work for the state highway department in Kirkwood and drove every day to work until he retired in 1983.
Darby’s daughter Jeannie was included in this interview. She expanded on some of Darby’s stories to include more specific details. At the conclusion of this interview, she said her father had told her earlier that morning that he “didn’t do anything important in the military.”
Jeannie said, “Dad said, ‘I wasn’t a hero.’ But I told him that what he did was important to get those soldiers transported from one base to another. Every job was important. They all worked together to get the jobs done.”
Even if Darby Downey doesn’t think he’s a hero, the fact is he made personal sacrifices. He risked his life to keep Americans safe.
And with this story, we acknowledge his sacrifices and offer great respect and gratitude to him for his service.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal