In an e-mail to staffers tonight, NBC News president Steve Capus remembered Gen. Wayne Downing as “a good friend and a great man.”
“At NBC News we knew Wayne as a generous, kind hearted, patient soul who offered invaluable insight, good counsel and friendship,” he wrote. “Within the military, General Downing was a larger than life figure: one of America’s most decorated, honored and respected leaders. In every sense of the word, General Downing EARNED the 4-stars that adorned his uniform.”
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The NBC News family, and indeed America, has suffered an enormous loss. Retired Army General Wayne Downing passed away early this morning in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois. Wayne was surrounded by his loving family, including his former high school sweetheart Kathy. Wayne always called Kathy the “true general” in his life…perhaps that’s why they were husband and wife.
At NBC News we knew Wayne as a generous, kind hearted, patient soul who offered invaluable insight, good counsel and friendship. Within the military, General Downing was a larger than life figure: one of America’s most decorated, honored and respected leaders. In every sense of the word, General Downing EARNED the 4-stars that adorned his uniform.
After graduating from West Point in 1962, Wayne Downing began the first of two combat tours in Vietnam. He came home with the Purple Heart and a Silver Star. He went from being an Army Ranger to Commander-in-Chief of all Special Forces. He led missions deep inside Iraq during the first Gulf War and commanded Special Operations during the 1989 invasion of Panama.
You get the sense that life was never dull for Wayne during the 34-years he spent inside the military, but his “retirement” was hardly a time of leisure. When President Bush was seeking an anti-terrorism coordinator, he turned to General Downing. When NBC News was looking for a military analyst, we also turned to General Downing.
As an analyst for this network, General Downing spent hours sharing his knowledge, working sources, and patiently answering all of our questions, even the ones that must have seemed so silly to him, coming from armchair warriors.
In 2003, in the early days of the Iraq invasion, General Downing was in yet another dangerous situation. He had offered to join Brian Williams and a production team that was one of the first to make its way in to Baghdad. On the edge of the Baghdad airport, under the darkness required for safety’s sake, General Downing held a small flashlight to illuminate Brian for a Nightly News live shot. Again, that would be a 4-star General we’re talking about pitching in on “flashlight duty” — anything for the team.
Our teams…in West Point…on Army bases worldwide…and in Peoria, Illinois all have gaping holes tonight. We’ve all lost a good friend and a great man. I’m attaching General Downing’s bio. Please take a moment to take a look.