Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Roland Granville Downing, who served on USS Latimer during the Korean War.
Born in November 1930, Roland Granville Downing became interested in joining the military when a Navy recruiter visited his high school. Downing’s father fought in the Army during World War I and encouraged him to join. He signed up and attended weekly meetings for the Naval Reserve Unit.
In 1949, Downing took the test to receive admission to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and won a scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He joined the ROTC unit that fall for midshipman training.
Downing set sail on his first summer cruise in 1950 as a midshipman on USS Missouri in the Caribbean. While on board, the ship’s captain announced that the North Koreans had crossed the 38th parallel, marking the beginning of the Korean War.
After graduating in 1953 with a degree in chemistry, Downing commissioned as an ensign into the Navy and served for three years. He served in the Sixth Fleet on the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Amphibious Forces on USS Latimer during the Korean War.
Downing served in the engineering department and enjoyed learning about the engines and steam plants on the ship. Working as the main propulsion assistant, he directed operations and oversaw maintenance of main propulsion equipment.
USS Latimer would perform maneuvers as part of a task force with other units and trained along the U.S. East coast as well as the friendly coastlines along the Mediterranean Coast. There, they would practice circling the beaches, performing landings and hitting the beaches.
In 1956, Downing left the Navy. He went to work as a chemist at DuPont, a chemicals company, in Orange, Texas. Downing joined the local Naval Reserve Unit in Port Arthur, Texas.
After two years, Downing wanted to earn his Ph.D., so he returned to Vanderbilt University on the GI Bill in 1958. In Nashville, he also joined the Naval Reserve Unit and briefly became the commanding officer of electronics for a Naval Reserve Unit in Mecklenburg, Tennessee, before leaving the Reserve.
Downing received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry and began his career as a research chemist in 1961 at Dupont’s experimental station in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1970, Downing returned to Orange for three years to work at the DuPont plant again. He also rejoined the Naval Reserve there and served as the commanding Reserve officer for Beaumont, Texas. Upon his return to Wilmington, Delaware, Downing became a research manager of DuPont until his retirement in 1993. He also served as the commanding Reserve officer for Wilmington and eventually became a captain, remaining active in this role until retiring in 1993.
In December 2009, Downing and his wife moved from Delaware to Atlantic Beach, Florida.
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Writer: Katherine Berman
Editor: Katherine Adams and Katie Wang
Fact checker: Ileana Rodrigues
Graphic artist: Courtney Carr