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Wayne Downing

PEORIA HEIGHTS - General Wayne Allen Downing (Retired), 67, of Peoria Heights died at 1:24 a.m. Wednesday, July 18, 2007, at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, leaving a personal legacy as a military leader, father and role model.

Born in the heartland of America in Peoria, Ill., on May 10, 1940, to Eileen M. Weiland and F. Wayne "Bud" Downing.

Wayne graduated from St. Cecilia School in 1954. His father was a World War II veteran who was killed in action in Germany in 1945. After having graduated from Spalding High School in Peoria, General Downing was granted a competitive appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated from West Point in June 1962, with a Bachelor's of Science degree. He was commissioned a second lieutenant following the commencement speech delivered by the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. General Downing later earned a Master's of Business Administration degree from Tulane University.

In May 2006, the United States Military Academy Association of Graduates honored General Downing with its Distinguished Graduate Award in recognition of his lifetime of service to the United States of America as a combat leader, educator, global strategist and national security expert.

General Downing began his brilliant 34-year career in the Army by leading soldiers in his first assignment as a platoon leader in Company B, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Okinawa.

He then served two years with the famous 173rd in Vietnam from 1964 to 1966. He served a third year in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division before moving on to many assignments in infantry, armor, special operations and joint units.

Having served in the 1st Ranger Battalion in 1975 and 1976 and having commanded the 2nd Ranger Battalion from 1977 to 1979, then-Colonel Downing was chosen in 1984 to form and lead the 75th Ranger Regiment. Under his command, the regiment grew to its highest level in 40 years by having activated an additional Ranger battalion and a regimental headquarters. The two previously existing Ranger battalions (2nd and 75th) and the later addition were integrated into a cohesive unit that to this day continues to work by its creed. Rangers Lead the Way.

Widely recognized as the father of the modern Rangers, General Downing demonstrated the organizational skill and technical refinements during this time that would have far-reaching effects on the future successes of his Rangers and of United States Special Operations Forces in general.

Continuing his work in Special Operations, he was appointed as the commanding general of the Joint Special Operations command based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in November 1989. In December of that year, he commanded the joint Special Operations Forces that so swiftly liberated Panama during Operation Just Cause. One year later, during Operation Desert Storm, he commanded a joint task force of 1,200 Special Operations Forces who conducted highly effective attacks in Iraq, drastically reducing the enemy's overall ballistic missile threat.

In August 1991, General Downing took command of the United States Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, a purview which included the nation's Ranger, Civil Affairs, Army Special Operations Aviation, Psychological Operations and Special Operations forces.

In 1993, he was appointed to the rank of four-star general and assigned as commander-in-chief of the United States Special Operations Command.

In this final active duty command, General Downing led the nation's 46,000 Special Operations soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Highly decorated by his nation and many of its allies, General Downing retired from active duty in 1996. To be sure, many of today's most senior generals and admirals matured under General Downing's mentorship, leadership, strong values and rigorous training standards.

Following retirement from the Army with his reputation as one of the nation's foremost advisors and experts in combating terrorism, General Downing was appointed by the president to lead a 40-person task force to investigate the 1996 terrorist attack on the U.S. base at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Continuing his lifetime of public service, General Downing then served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorism (the Bremer Commission) from 1999 to 2000. The commission examined the terrorist threat to the United States and found a need for an aggressive strategy on combating terrorism. In 2001, General Downing served the White House as National Director and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism.

As President Bush's principle adviser on worldwide terrorism, he was responsible for the close coordination between military, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement and financial operations of our nation's war on terror. Additionally, he was responsible for developing and executing a strategy that integrated all elements of national power. General Downing was chairman and founder of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United State Military Academy at West Point, a capacity in which he conducted the Terrorism Studies Seminar. As Distinguished Chair, he directed the center's research activities in combating terrorism.

General Downing served on several boards in the private sector. He was also a visiting faculty member at the University of Michigan Business School, a role in which he conducted seminars on leadership and transformation management.

His awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Soldiers Medal, the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor and five Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with V Device and 35 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal with V Device and three Oak Leaf Clusters. General Downing earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Military Free Fall Jumpmaster Badge, the Master Parachute Badge, the Ranger Tab and the Pathfinder Badge.

He was a commander in the French Legion of Honor.

Tributes attesting to the legacy of General Downing and messages mourning the loss of this patriot have been pouring in from around the country.

Surviving General Downing are his mother, Eileen Downing, his wife, Kathryn Bickerman Downing, his sister, Marlianne (J. Michael) Fortune, all of Peoria, Ill.; his daughters, Elizabeth Downing Revell of Clifton, Va., and Laura Downing of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Elizabeth's husband, James Revell, and their daughter, Madeline, of Clifton, Va.; his stepsons and daughters, Daniel and Leanne Immesoete and their children, John Phillip (Jack) Immesoete and Molly Anne; Barry and Laurie Pearl Cain and their children, Charles Patrick, Mary Kathryn and John Casey Cain, all of Peoria, Ill.; Kathryn Cain-Immesoete of Coronado, Calif.; Dr. Phillip A. Immesoete II of Columbus, Ohio; Drew Baron Immesoete of San Francisco, Calif., and Morgan Christopher Immesoete of Eugene, Ore.

General Downing was preceded in death by his father, Wayne "Bud" Downing; and his sister, Beth (Terry) Hartnett.

A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 21, 2007, at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Peoria Heights, with the Rev. Thomas Taylor officiating. Burial will be at 1 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Cemetery at West Point, with a reception to follow.

Wright & Salmon Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.

The family requests that contributions in lieu of flowers be sent to the following: Special Operations Warrior Foundation, P.O. Box 13483, Tampa, FL 33681-3483; National Ranger Memorial Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 53369, Fort Benning, GA, 31995-3369; St. Thomas Church Building Fund; or Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter.

Tributes and condolences may be submitted to www.wrightandsalmon.com.

Published in Peoria Journal Star on July 19, 2007
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