Alexandria veteran buried on anniversary of V-E Day

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Alexandria veteran buried on anniversary of V-E Day
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By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)

For a veteran, being buried at Arlington National Cemetery is considered a great honor. But for the family of longtime Alexandria resident and World War II veteran Navy Cmdr. Thomas Richard Downs, his burial service last Friday had added significance: May 8 was the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict in Europe.

Downs died of natural causes on January 2 at the age of 91.

A memorial service was held at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer. Afterward, Downs’ casket was lifted onto a caisson. Family and friends followed the procession escorted by a casket team, color guard, and military band to the burial site. At the site, there was a small service including a three-rifle volley, “Taps” performed by a bugler, the formal folding of the flag and its presentation to the family.

Downs made his home in Rosemont for 57 years and was known to friends and family as “The Commander.”

Born January 23, 1923, Downs lived with his family in Middletown, Ohio and after graduating with honors from high school attended the University of Cincinnati. Downs enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 and became one of the youngest chief petty officers in Navy history at the age of 21.

During the war, Downs served in England on the staff of the U.S. Naval Forces France preparing for the Invasion of Normandy. After V-E Day, Downs was transferred to the Pacific where he served on an amphibious vessel.

After the war, Downs was released from active duty and continued his education, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Miami University in Ohio.

Downs taught for three years at his alma mater, Middletown High School, but at the onset of the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty and served on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, in Norfolk, Va. Later he would serve with the occupational forces of Germany on the staff of the Commander of U.S. Forces Europe.

During his service in Germany, the National Sojourners honored Downs with the Americanism Service Award for his off-duty work teaching adult Germans at the State Department’s America House. He was instrumental in collecting children’s clothing from American families and sharing them with local families in need.

Downs continued his service in the Navy in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Naval Gun Factory, the Bureau of Naval Weapons, and as staff of the secretary of defense in international security affairs.

Education was never far from Downs’ mind. He earned two additional master’s degrees from George Washington University, and earned his doctorate in management from Pacific Western University. He taught for 16 years at various government installations and at Southeastern University in D.C.

In the 1960s, Downs served as a military advisor in China, and during the Vietnam War he was involved with the operation of the port of DaNang. He managed 5,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese personnel and coordinated supply ships and cargo for U.S. troops.

Downs received a presidential appointment to the Joint Logistics Review Board and continued his work in the Pacific region.

Upon his retirement from the Navy, Downs was awarded the Navy Meritorious Service Medal. Over the course of his career, he earned 18 different decorations, three twice earned, and four Vietnam campaign stars.

Downs was married to Juliane Hudson Downs for 41 years until her death in 1998. The couple had two children, Susan Downs Smouse of Austin, Texas and Richard Warren Downs of Alexandria. He had three grandchildren.

Richard Downs said his father remained sharp, even as he got older.

“He maintained his love for gardening, mowed his own grass, did his own housekeeping, insisted on hanging his laundry outside to dry, and he remembered the birthdays and graduations of children on the street with cards and gifts,” Richard said.

Three months before his death, Downs asked Richard to pull out his copy of the Bill of Rights.

“He proudly recited it word for word,” he said.

Downs was an enthusiastic supporter of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and was a first trustee emeritus. He earned the moniker “Mr. Symphony” since he greeted many of the subscribers by name.

Neighbor John Schilling had fond memories of Downs, calling him a sage.

“I’d visit and he’d hand me a clothes pin and have me hanging up his socks and sheets,” Schilling said. “We’d have a chat over an iced tea. ‘How about a sweet roll?’ He was a provider. He always wanted to provide a bit of hospitality to everyone.

“I would go and visit him as if he were my counselor. He’d give me wonderful advice. He was just a statesman, very diplomatic and an ambassador of goodwill. … He could have a conversation with a complete foreigner the same as he would his neighbors over an iced tea on the back porch. He was very broad and culturally minded.”

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