Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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6/10/11: John T. Downey ’51

John T. Downey ’51 missed his first four Yale reunions for a dreadful and remarkable reason: he was a prisoner in China, shot down in 1952 while on a CIA mission and held for more than 20 years before being released as part of Richard Nixon’s opening to China. At his 60th reunion last weekend, Downey and his classmates watched a newly declassified CIA documentary about his story called Extraordinary Fidelity.

The hour-long film, which was posted on YouTube on June 2, uses archival footage, interviews, and re-enactments to tell a story former CIA director George Tenet calls “one of the most remarkable in the 50 years of the Central Intelligence Agency”: how a mission into mainland China by Downey and fellow agent Richard Fecteau went awry, and how they endured harsh interrogation and solitary confinement during their two decades of captivity. The film was produced by the CIA for internal use, but was released this month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

After Downey was released at age 46, he went to law school at Harvard. He eventually became a juvenile-court judge in New Haven, where the juvenile courthouse was named for him in 2002.

Filed under military, YouTube, movies
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