Longtime Riverhead resident James J. Downey died March 9 at his home, following a seven-year battle with cancer. He was 66 years old.
He was born Oct. 28, 1946, in Brooklyn to Joseph and Margaret (Wilkins) Downey. A 56-year Riverhead resident, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Riverhead High School in 1965 and served four tours of duty in Vietnam, earning the Purple Heart, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device (the Combat “V”), Navy Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnam Honor Medal 2nd Class, Vietnam Training Service Medal 2nd Class, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He was the honor man of his company at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in 1965.
He served aboard the Earl B. Hall Destroyer Escort and the USS Independence. He was “a river rat,” a member of the “Brown Water Navy,” patrolling the Perfume and other rivers of Vietnam on naval river patrol boats, and saw action in the Battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive. He worked with the 3rd Marine Division at I-Corps and served on the staff of Admiral “Bud” Zumwalt in Saigon in 1969 for the Vietnamization program. He also lived among and learned the language of the South Vietnamese people. He attained the rank of GMG3 Petty Officer and was honorably discharged on June 29, 1971.
Mr. Downey married Diane M. Drozd on Nov. 4, 1972, at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead.
He was an officer with the Suffolk County Park Police for over 25 years and was a member of the recovery team following the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
A lifelong student of history, he formed a living history school program and gave lectures about historical events. He was an avid outdoorsman, and his hobbies included participating as a re-enactor of the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War and World War II. He formed a re-enactment group called Captain Thomas Terry’s Company, New York Provincial Militia 1756-1762, which is based on the history of the original group from Southold.
A life member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he also belonged to the Sons of the American Revolution, the Free and Accepted Masons, the Alamo Society and the National Rifle Association.
He was devoted to his family and loved spending time with his grandchildren, playing with them and reading to them as often as possible.
Mr. Downey is survived by his wife of 40 years; his son Joseph (Christianna) and grandchildren Evan and Rylan, of Pennsylvania; his son Glenn and granddaughter Rowenna, of Maryland; and his brother, Dennis (Shirley), of North Carolina. He was predeceased by his father in 1987 and his mother in 2000.
The family will receive visitors Tuesday, March 12, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. A service will be held Wednesday, March 13, at 9:30 a.m. at Church of the Redeemer in Mattituck, the Rev. Nils Blatz officiating. Cremation will be at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Center Moriches.
Memorial donations may be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Colorectal Department, P.O. Box 27106, New York, NY 10087-7106 or Vietnam Veterans of America, 8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
This is a paid notice.