NEWS | April 19, 2021

USS Arizona Pearl Harbor survivor flies high for his 100th birthday

By LTC Jaime Thomas Utah National Guard

In celebration of his 100th birthday on April 15, 2021, Mr. Ken Potts, one of only two living survivors that were aboard the battleship USS Arizona (BB39) during the attack on Pearl Harbor, will be taken on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flight by the Utah National Guard’s 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion.

"It is an honor for the Utah National Guard to celebrate this incredible birthday milestone with Mr. Potts," said Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, adjutant general, Utah National Guard. "On behalf of the Utah National Guard, we want to express our gratitude to Mr. Potts for his exemplary service to this nation."

Potts was born on a farm in Honey Bend, Illinois, and relocated to his current residence in Provo, Utah shortly after WWII where he lives with his wife, Doris.  He served in the U.S. Navy from 1939 to 1945, mostly at Pearl Harbor, and left the U.S. Navy as a petty officer first class.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Potts was a boatswain mate working as a crane operator and was up early that Sunday shuttling supplies to the USS Arizona. When the attack started and sailors were thrown into the water, Potts used his boat to retrieve them and move them to Ford Island. Throughout the attack, he was back and forth from the harbor to the island, delivering dozens, if not a few hundred, sailors in all sorts of conditions to the relative safety of Ford Island.

Potts was in the harbor when the Arizona exploded, a moment that he said, "I still see and feel it...most times as a nightmare." 

"It was unbelievable how it could happen. It was turmoil," said Potts. "The whole place was on fire. The water was burning because the oil was on fire."

Later, Potts was assigned with five others with the grim task of pulling bodies from the Arizona. They looked for survivors, but they found only bodies.

"That," he says with a sigh, "was a hell of a job."

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