Once a month, the New Britain City Journal, will take a look at something named in New Britain and find out how it got its name. It could be a street, a building, a park or something else.
Most of us have been on John Downy Drive and remember some of its history. Some of us even remember the day John Downey returned home. It was a big day in New Britain history.
John Downey was returned to New Britain on March 13, 1973 and the City celebrated naming the road that now holds many businesses after one of our most famous residents.
During the Korean War, China was an ally of North Korea against the U.S.-backed South Koreans. Downey and other aircraft crew were trying to pick up an anti-communist Chinese agent when they came under fire in the sky over Manchuria on November 29, 1952. Initially, all of those on the aircraft were presumed by the U.S. Government to be dead. Downey was 22 years old and Richard Fecteau was 25 at the time of their capture. The pilots, Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz, lost their lives.
Later, Beijing announced Downey was given a life sentence for espionage and Fecteau received 20 years. After harsh interrogations, both men faced dismal conditions for most of their incarceration.
When negotiations commenced in 1971, leading to President Richard M. Nixon’s opening of China, Fecteau was released. Soon after Nixon publicly admitted Downey’s CIA affiliation, his life sentence was commuted and he was released two years later.
When Downey returned home to New Britain, he became a respected judge; a New Haven courthouse is also named after him.
Judge Downey was married (in 1975, to a Chinese-born wife) and they have an adult son.
On June 18, 2007, the Connecticut Bar Association honored Judge Downey with its highest honor for a judge, the Henry J. Naruk Judiciary Award, for his outstanding contributions to the judicial field in Connecticut.
Downey is still alive today.