The General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport. It’s more than just a name change, and more than a lasting tribute to a patriot who defined what the United States of America stands for—it’s a revolution in the marketability and attractiveness of this region to tourists, business travelers and permanent transplants.
I applaud the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria on the decision to name the new airport terminal for one of our native sons, who is also one of this country’s most respected military leaders of all time. General Wayne Downing is someone any leader—or for that matter, any person—should aspire to be. He became a household name during the first Gulf War, and the years since as a military analyst for NBC. But his leadership and bravery long before then—in places no one would ever want to go, and situations in which no one would ever want to be, all to defend this country—are too admirable for words.
I never knew General Downing, but he and my father—both proud 1958 graduates of Spalding Institute—were friends. And I was proud just to be able to come that close to greatness. To me it was like saying, “Yeah, Walter Payton and my dad are friends. They went to high school together.”
There is no question General Downing had a profound impact on this country, but his impact on Peoria was arguably just as great. He never forgot where he came from, and he eventually returned here despite his continued work on national television. The fact that such a public figure, a hero, would call the Peoria area home says something about this place. Much as people are surprised to hear Dan Fogelberg and Richard Pryor were from here, they are equally surprised to learn that General Wayne Downing was too. Therefore, just like the term international airport builds credibility and marketability for the Peoria area, so does the name General Wayne A. Downing.
The term “international” also builds credibility and marketability. The difference between a regional airport and an international airport is as vast as the sky itself, at least from the standpoint of public perception. A regional airport evokes images of a small terminal with a couple of airlines that offer service on small planes to one or two hubs where you are bound to have your next flight delayed—just one more step of inconvenience in your travels. Imagine the reaction of a business traveler who has to come to Peoria—a place he’s never been to, and finds out he has to fly into the regional airport there. Talk about the small-town stereotype. Now imagine his reaction when he discovers he’s flying into the city’s international airport. I humbly submit he’ll quickly surmise Peoria can’t possibly be that small if it has an international airport.
The General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport will play a large and integral role in this area’s future growth. It is fitting that even after his premature death, General Downing is still contributing to the (economic) security of his homeland. iBi