News, WW2

Charles Dowd: Montana’s Last Pearl Harbor Survivor Dies

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a catastrophic event that forever changed the course of history. What would have been just another morning for the sailors quickly turned into a nightmare of chaos, destruction, and loss.

The skies were filled with the roars of Japanese planes, bringing annihilation upon the American fleet.

It did not take the unsuspecting sailors long to realize they were under attack. Sailors who were readying themselves for the day just moments before were now manning their battle stations – putting their lives on the line for their country and fellowmen alike.

Pearl Harbor
Dowd in his Naval uniform just after Pearl Harbor. Dowd passed away at the age of 99 in March 2023

Among those men was Charles A. “Charlie” Dowd – a radioman who fought the Japanese and lived to tell the tale of that fateful day. On 17 Mar, Dowd passed away at the age of 99. He may no longer be with us, but his bravery earned him a name that will go down the history. A name that will always be remembered.

Who was Charles A. Dowd?

Charles A. Down was born in Rochester, New York, on 23 Dec 1923. His father, David Albert Dowd, was a World War One veteran, and his mother, Josepha Grace Hillen, a Nursing Supervisor. In Mar 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and began training as a radioman. The radioman was later sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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On 7 Dec 1941, Dowd fought the Japanese during the Pearl Harbor attack. Later, the sailor went on to serve in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands up until the end of World War Two. Down was discharged in December 1945.

Upon his return, the Pearl Harbor survivor worked as a mason and then as a contractor in Rochester. Where many would have given up, Charles continued to become a Sales Executive for The New York Fire Protection Systems and the Kirby Company.

The USS Arizona burns during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Downs watched the carnage around him.

His journey did not stop there. Charles completed his credits at the University of Florida and became a High School Teacher in Dunnellon, Florida. As an avid sportsman, the man retired to Anaconda, Montana, in 1984 to pursue his passion – hunting and fishing. 

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“I came out here for the hunting, for the fishing and the wilderness,” he told the Montana Standard. On the 50th anniversary of the attack, he returned to Pearl Harbor. He stood where he had stood 50 years ago, firing up at the Japanese planes flying by.

He stood there. Emotions came flooding back, taking him back to the horrific day.

Pearl Harbor, in Charles’ own words

Down had reported for duty at 11:30 PM on Dec 6 – the day before the catastrophic event. Throughout the dark of the night, the radioman operated the radio-direction finder installation on Ford Island before returning to his barracks. He lay on his bunk, unaware of what was about to come.

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Shaken by the shots of Japanese aircraft, he soon ran to the barrack window, only to see a nearby bomber hanger going up in flames. Dowd and his friend Sam Jensen quickly jumped into action upon a call for volunteers. 

Both received 1903 Springfield 30-06 rifles and bandoliers of brass cartridges at the armoury. The two made their way to the rooftop of a nearby building and began shooting at the Japanese planes. Dowd admitted that the rage and adrenaline rushing through his veins helped conquer the fear that day. 

“I didn’t have any fear at the time. We were angry. That’s why we were shooting at them.”

Fifty years later, however, Dowd was unable to contain his emotions. 

West Virginia
The USS West Virginia was sunk by torpedoes and bombs during the attack. Bravery was seen throughout the disaster however.

As many as 2,400 service members and civilians lost their lives that day. “They let me get back on the roof, and I was crying. I was thinking about all the boys who were killed on that day. We were all boys,” shared the WW2 veteran.

Moving on, Dowd volunteered for any radioman service that he thought would keep him close to the action. Dowd earned two Bronze Stars and other commendations in four years and ten months of his service in the US Navy. 

A 99-year-long journey coming to an end…

On 17 Mar, Charles passed away after a brief illness. Dowd’s funeral service will be held at 11 AM on April 27 at Grace Baptist Church, 501 Cedar St., Anaconda. Visitations will take place at 10 AM, before the service. 

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“Charlie Dowd’s extraordinary courage at Pearl Harbor and exemplary service is what makes our country the greatest in the world, and we owe him a deep debt that can never be repaid,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester while praising the Montana veteran.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines expressed his gratitude, “Charlie’s story is a solemn reminder that freedom is never free and the price paid by the greatest generation is a debt that we will never be able to repay.”