Captain Chuck Downey

The late Captain Chuck Downey, the youngest Naval Aviator of World War II, was honored with a celebration of life ceremony at the Poplar Grove Wings and Wheels Museum on Saturday, June 11.

“This was a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man and pilot,” Boone County Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Robert Ryder said.

Ryder was a friend of Captain Downey’s, and he attended the event to honor the life of his late friend.

“Chuck would have been so happy and proud to see so many of his friends and family show up today,” Ryder said at the event.

Captain Downey, a long-time resident of Poplar Grove passed away on Feb. 19 after a lengthy illness. He was 91.

After captain Downey passed away in his winter home in Florida, his family decided to hold a celebration of life in Poplar Grove for his Stateline friends who were not able to attend his funeral.

They chose Saturday, June 11 since it was so close to Flag Day, a holiday that Downey loved and celebrated every year with a party at his home.

The celebration of life included WGN’s longtime radio personality Orion Samuelson hosting a presentation that included awarding several scholarships to area youth who will pursue careers in aviation, a remembrance by Rear Admiral Robert Besal, USN, Ret., a luncheon for all who attended and a missing man fly-over by several area pilots.

Captain Chuck Downey 2Captain Downey flew a Helldiver dive bomber during WWII, taking part in 17 combat missions and flying off aircraft carriers in the Pacific. He was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for his actions in helping defeat the Japanese during WWII.

For years, it was thought that former President George H.W. Bush was the youngest Naval Aviator of WWII. However, President Bush gracefully acknowledged that honor belonged to Captain Downey during a meeting between the two more than a year ago. Captain Downey received his Naval Aviator wings 17 days before his 19th birthday.

Captain Downey was preceded in death by his loving wife Lorna in 1997. He is survived by his five children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

More than 150 people, many who traveled from outside the state, attended the celebration of life for Captain Downey.


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