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Lee Downer

Obituary of Lee Alan Downer

Major General Lee Downer (Retired U.S. Air Force) passed away peacefully on July 21 surrounded by his family after a courageous battle with cancer. Lee was a decorated Air Force veteran, having served his country for 33 years, as well as an author, historian, art collector, philatelist, music lover and beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother. 

Lee was born May 12th, 1941 in Queens, N.Y., to the late Leo H. Downer and Louise Mary Young. Before embarking on his own journey as a pilot, Lee developed his love for flying at an early age while living on many bases as the son of an Air Force family. His fondest childhood memories are of the time he spent as a boy in Alaska where his father was flying reconnaissance missions. 

He entered the Air Force in 1964 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and retired as director of operations, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Hampton, Va., in 1997. He was a decorated command pilot with more than 3,500 hours in fighter aircraft. Throughout his career he flew several aircrafts including the O-2, OV-10, F-4C/D/E, F-16A/C and the F-111 E/F. Lee’s favorite aircraft was the F-16, and he rejoiced in recounting the hours spent in flight. 

He served in many positions throughout his career at various Air Force bases in the U.S., Germany, Turkey, England, South Korea and Vietnam.

Maj. Gen. Downer saw heavy combat during Vietnam, where he flew 154 missions as an F4-C fighter pilot stationed at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, where he also earned a Purple Heart. He again saw combat as air component and 7440th Composite Wing commander, Joint Task Force Proven Force, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, during Operation Desert Storm. He later went on to publish "The Composite Wing in Combat, "Airpower Journal" — based on experiences as commander of the 7440th Composite Wing.

He earned a master’s degree in political science at Auburn University in 1975 while attending the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala. and attended the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, England.

General Downer was a distinguished pilot and was the recipient of many awards and distinctions throughout his military career. He earned the distinguished service medal, defense superior service medal, legion of merit, distinguished flying cross, purple heart, meritorious service medal, and air medal with 12 oak leaf clusters.

In 1997, after his retirement from the Air Force, he transitioned to executive positions within the defense industry. In 2012, he retired to his Eliot, Maine farmhouse with his wife, Sue, to follow his personal pursuits and passions. 

Many hours were spent in the barn of their historic 1773 home writing three books, “Victor Alert: 15 Minutes to Armageddon,” a memoir recounting his time as a nuke warrior during the cold war, “Radio Failure: An Airpower Conspiracy,” and “Air Mail Scandal: The Air Corps Delivers.” In between these hours of writing he developed his love for bird watching and going to local music venues to share in his wife’s passion for dancing and live music. He also took great joy in walking with his wife and dogs in the nearby open fields reminiscent of his favorite area in England, the Cotswolds.

After spending 10 winters in Deland, Fla., Lee and Sue moved to Deland full time. Lee continued being an active member in the community, serving as the president of the board of directors for Museum of Art — Deland. Lee also served as the president of the American Air Mail Society. He was an avid stamp collector throughout his lifetime. An active contributor to local newspapers, he was never afraid to stand up and defend a cause he believed in. Lee was a generous friend to all, welcoming conversation with his smile and easygoing nature. This past winter he once again had the opportunity to enjoy his love of flying and on a clear day could be seen piloting a T34A over the Deland area. 

Lee is survived by his wife, Susan L. Downer; his daughter, Kelley D. Pierce, her husband John Pierce, grandchildren Nathan, Andrew and Katie Pierce of Arizona; his daughter Kristen Downer and grandchildren Calvin Downer-Miller, Milo and Lulu Downer Silva of Oregon; and his stepdaughters, Caitlin Kenney and Molly A. Kenney of Massachusetts. He leaves behind a brother, Tom S. Downer of Nevada; sisters Barbara Faas of Colorado and Deborah Kirkland and her husband John Kirkland of Oregon; and several nieces and nephews.   

Lee will be laid to rest at the United States Air Force Academy. Services will be held at the USAFA on Sept. 9, 2019 at 10 a.m. followed by a gathering after the ceremony. A toast and celebration of life will also be held in Deland. Details will be forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, to honor his love of flying and community, contributions may be made in his memory to the West Volusia Habitat for Humanity, Deland or to the Air Force Association. (,

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