Ken Potts' Death Leaves One Arizona Survivor

Navy veteran, 102, recalled all of Pearl Harbor was on fire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 23, 2023 4:50 PM CDT
Ken Potts Survived Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor.   (Getty/violet-blue)

Ken Potts, one of the last two remaining survivors of the USS Arizona battleship, which sank during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 102. Howard Kenton Potts died Friday at the home in Provo, Utah, that he shared with his wife of 66 years, Doris, the AP reports. Randy Stratton, whose late father, Donald Stratton, was Potts' Arizona shipmate and close friend, said he had talked to Potts on April 15—the veteran's 102nd birthday. "He knew that his body was kind of shutting down on him," Stratton said.

Potts was born and raised in Honey Bend, Illinois, and enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He was working as a crane operator shuttling supplies to the Arizona the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Pearl Harbor attack happened, according to a 2021 article by the Utah National Guard. In a 2020 oral history interview with the American Veterans Center, Potts said a loudspeaker ordered sailors back to their ships, so he got on a boat. "When I got back to Pearl Harbor, the whole harbor was afire," he said in the interview. "The oil had leaked out and caught on fire." Dozens of ships either sank, capsized, or were damaged in the bombing of the Hawaii naval base, which catapulted the US into World War II.

Sailors were tossed or forced to jump into the oily muck below, and Potts and his fellow sailors pulled some to safety in their boat. The Arizona sank just nine minutes after being bombed, and its 1,177 dead account for nearly half the servicemen killed in the attack. Today, the battleship still sits where it sank eight decades ago, with more than 900 dead entombed inside. Potts recalled decades later that some people were still giving orders in the midst of the attack but that there was also a lot of chaos. He carried his memories of the attack for the rest of his life. "Even after I got out of the Navy, out in the open, and heard a siren, I'd shake," he said.

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Stratton noted that the only remaining survivor from the Arizona is now Lou Conter, who is 101 and living in California. "This is history. It's going away," Stratton said. Once Conter has died, he added, "Who tells all their stories?" Several dozen Arizona survivors have had their ashes interred on the sunken battleship so they could join their shipmates, but Stratton said Potts didn't want that. “He said he got off once, he’s not going to go back on board again,” he said. (In December, only a half-dozen Pearl Harbor survivors made it to the annual remembrance.)

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