Wayne Downing

He wore 4 Stars, Commanded the Joint Special Operations Command, an Elite Organization of Delta Force, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Special Forces, that for years the Pentagon refused to acknowledge its existence.

General Downing was born May 10, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois and graduated from Spalding High School.

He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated from West Point in June 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He later earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Tulane University.

He served in Vietnam from 1964-67.

In 1984, he was chosen to form and lead the 75th Ranger Regiment; Downing is considered to be the father of the modern Rangers.

In 1989, he was appointed commanding general of Joint Special Operations.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Downing commanded 1,200 U.S. Special Forces that halted Iraq’s SCUD missile attacks and eased missile threats in the war zone.

In 1993, he was appointed to the rank of four-star general.

In 1996, he retired as the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, where he was in charge of the special operations forces of each military service. That same year he led a task force to investigate the terrorist attack on part of a housing complex in the city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where foreign military, including U.S. Air Force personnel, were housed.

In 1999, he became a member of the National Commission on Terrorism.

In 2001, Downing came out of retirement to coordinate the national campaign “to detect, disrupt and destroy global terrorist organizations and those who support them.” He held the title of National Director and Deputy National Security Advisor for combating terrorism.[3] He reported to then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security director Tom Ridge.

From 2003 until his death he held the Distinguished Chair at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Downing was formerly a director of Metal Storm and a senior executive with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). He also performed various speaking engagements.

Besides working for the US government in his retiree years, he also worked for NBC News as a military analyst and performed various speaking engagements.

In 2006, he received the United States Military Academy’s 2006 Distinguished Graduate Award.

July 18, 2007 General Downing died at the age of 67 at Proctor Hospital, of meningitis. He is buried in the West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York on September 27, 2007. His grave is just north of the main cemetery building.

On September 24, 2008, the Metropolitan Authority of Peoria voted unanimously to change the name of the Greater Peoria Regional Airport to the “General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport”.

Military Honors Include:

  • Defense Distinguished Service Medal
  • Army Distinguished Service Medal
  • Silver Star Medal
  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Soldier’s Medal
  • Bronze Star Medal
  • Purple Heart
  • Defense Meritorious Service Medal
  • Meritorious Service Medal
  • Air Medal
  • Army Commendation Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Southwest Asia Service Medal
  • Army Service Ribbon
  • Army Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Vietnam Gallantry Cross with 3 Bronze Stars
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
  • Army Presidential Unit Citation
  • Joint Meritorious Unit Award
  • Army Meritorious Unit Commendation
  • Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
  • Combat Infantryman Badge
  • Master Parachutist Badge
  • Pathfinder Badge
  • Jumpmaster Military Free Fall Parachute Badge
  • Ranger Tab
  • Office of Secretary of Defense Identification Badge
  • Recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Graduate Award from the U.S. Military Academy

New York Times Article on Wayne’s Passing

Wayne’s Assignments are at  – – -Wayne A. Downing – Wikipedia


International Airport

Mike Grebe and Wayne headed to West Point – July 1958

Cadet Days

Wayne was not always serious

Harry and Wayne against our Citroen on a Paris Street

In July of 1960 Wayne, Harry and Phil spent 30 days with the 187 Airborne Battle Group at Fort Bragg. Can not remember who had the idea, but we went to Mcguire AFB in August to catch a ride to Europe. There were several stops going over, one of which was in Ireland where we had a glass of Irish Coffee at 4 in the morning. Harry and Wayne discussed the failure of the French during World War I – note it was to lay a seed in Harry’s mind which he was to remember.

We finally arrived in Paris and went out that night – somehow we got seperated. The next morning when Wayne and I awoke we found each other we could not find Harry. He arrived at the hotel mid-morning with a bandage and a bump on his head.

Harry had remembered Wayne’s history lesson and finding himself in a Communist Quarter bar had tried to rally the French Cowards to follow him to the Western Front in an effort to save Paris from the Attacking Hun.

Harry had to discuss his actions with the Gendarmerie, but first they administered a crack to the head. Harry was passed on to the Military Police resulting in his having to report to Versailles Hqs each day. Wayne and I waited over looking the Gardens at the Versailles Palace.

We were asked to leave Paris and not come back, we are on the way to climb the Matterhorn.

The weather was bad so we could not climb – we climbed a ridge south of town.

Harry and his Guide

Wayne, Harry and Harry’s Guide, as we rest. The corrective action taken by the Gendarmerie can be seen on the back of Harry’s head.

The walk with the sheer climb in the haze – Harry kept throwing rocks over the side – but we could never hear them hit. Must have been the fog that drowned out the noise.

The next day we look at the Matterhorn as we ready to leave Zermatt

Two of our Classmates near the end of their Military Careers – One Army Chief of Staff, the other Commander of The Joint Special Operations Command.

Surrounded by Classmates and Friends & Family — Wayne is Escorted to his Final Resting Place.


  1. Elizabeth Downing
    Posted July 29, 2019 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    I have additional photos that I would like to add to Dad’s page. Elizabeth Downing

  2. Posted March 2, 2020 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Elizabeth I was going thru old notes and realized that I had not received the additional photos. Please send them to ThinkcreativelyA@aol.com. Put Wayne Downing as the subject. I get a lot of junk and I do not want to miss your mMessage. The Very Best Phil

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