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January 23, 2015   |   by Michael Bennet

My State of the Union guests

One of the most gratifying parts of the State of the Union is having the opportunity to spend time with some of Colorado's most innovative and inspiring community members. Members of Congress are provided one ticket for a guest to attend the annual address. This year, I had the privilege of inviting Colorado Springs resident Lt. Jim Downing. At 101 years old, he is the oldest known survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We were also incredibly grateful to Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii for graciously giving his guest ticket to Lt. Downing's daughter, Marobeth, so that she would be able to join her father.

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Lt. Downing is a true American hero who has lived an incredible life. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in September 1932 and was assigned to the USS West Virginia. During the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, Lt. Downing helped fight fires and rescue his fellow sailors. Throughout the attacks, he took note to remember names of the crew who had died so he could contact their families.

Lt. Downing served in the Navy for 24 years and commanded the USS Patapsco during the Korean War. He acted as an advisor to the Brazilian Fleet in Rio de Janeiro and later became an assistant professor of Naval Science at the Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

Watch more of his story from ABC's "This Week" and KKTV:

Our nation is indebted to Lt. Downing and his fellow sailors for their service in defense of our nation. It was a great honor to escort Lt. Downing into the Capitol on Tuesday night and introduce him to my colleagues, where I hope he served as a reminder of the responsibility we have to our brave men and women in the armed forces.

In addition to Lt. Downing, we welcomed several other Coloradans to the Capitol on Tuesday. We secured a ticket for Colorado Springs NAACP President Harry Allen Jr., who has spent the last few weeks responding to a recent explosion outside his chapter's building in Colorado Springs. Before the speech, our office hosted Lonnie and Sandy Phillips. Their daughter, Jessica, was tragically killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting.

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Earlier in the day, we met with Brian Elder of Englewood. Brian was invited to the State of the Union as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. He is a medical student with cystic fibrosis who we first met him in 2013 when he testified at a congressional hearing to champion a drug called Kalydeco. Brian says Kalydeco, which was the first drug to receive a "breakthrough therapy" designation from the FDA, "changed his life." The "breakthrough therapy" designation accelerates the approval of drugs that show early, dramatically positive results, allowing them to reach patients that need them quicker. We wrote this provision into law along with Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Richard Burr.

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