A DEDICATED MOTHER
It was October 1948 when Myrtle Downey first contacted the Detroit War Memorial Committee about naming a park for her fallen son. It was her first letter and wouldn’t be her last.
She had four sons enter the war effort, three returned. She was a widow and dedicated mother who actively participated in the VFW 873 Ladies Auxiliary and the Detroit chapters of the Gold Star Mothers and the Blue Star Mothers.
She gave birth to Harry, her oldest in Ohio on January 14, 1917. By the mid-30’s the Downey family made their way to Detroit settling into the Braddish and Hubbard neighborhood. In her writings, Myrtle indicated Harry enjoyed playing hockey and baseball. He attended St. Leo’s school [now Crockett Academy] until the 8th grade. Like their father, Harry and his brother Jack found employment at a local Awrey bakery. When WWII called, he enlisted for service in November 1941, entering the US Army / Air Corp through Fort Custer in west Michigan.
Having superior fire power over the enemy was a primary key to success in World War II. Harry was a cog in a larger effort named Operation Husky, an invasion of the Sicilian coast by both sea and air, described as one of the largest amphibious efforts of World War II. Overall it was bloody, bloody combat. During this mission, Harry Downey was presented with a daring opportunity.
It was July 10th 1943 and Harry’s unit, the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division took off from Tunisia with the intent of landing east of village of Gela, Italy. Military research and Harry’s citation both indicate strong western winds put these paratroopers miles beyond their actual drop zone. At landing, the jumpers found themselves amid three German pillboxes. The boys made the best of it, forming groups and fighting hard against the Italian and German positions during the night.
As mentioned, firepower reigns supreme. Without hesitation Harry went into hostile fire to recover an abandoned German machine gun. With little cover, he became severely wounded. By the early hours of July 11, 1943 a total of 39 paratroopers from the 1st Battalion unit had perished; Harry was among them.
He was awarded a posthumous Silver Star for his bravery. In 1944 the medal was delivered to Myrtle’s doorstep by a military officer. Harry’s body was returned stateside and reburial services in Mount Elliot cemetery occurred on August 7, 1948.
MYRTLE’S DREAM COMES TRUE
Myrtle continued to send letters and postcards..and then she sends some more. Finally, the Myrtle – Lawton playground was re-named for Harry’s memory in 1951 as an act of the Detroit War Memorial Committee due to the diligence and follow up of a his dedicated mother. The park remains today, located within an apartment complex.
Harry is memorialized on a plaque located at the point of battle [in front of a farmhouse] in Ponte Dirillo, Italy. He was also a namesake on the defunct Detroit American Legion #450 – The Burke, Downey, Jones Post.
Harry Clyde Downey like so many other Detroiters in so many different ways, you braved a war; you are remembered.
Thanks for reading. Andrea Gallucci ©2015.