PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – Ken Potts, one of only two living survivors from one of the most devastated battleships in the attacks at Pearl Harbor, was given a special experience for his 100th birthday on Thursday.
Wanting to celebrate Potts’ centennial birthday, the Utah National Guard arranged to take the WWII veteran and his wife, Doris, on a flight around the Wasatch Front on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“It is an honor for the Utah National Guard to celebrate this incredible birthday milestone with Mr. Potts,” says Maj. Gen. Michael Turley of Utah National Guard in a press release that was given prior to the flight. “On behalf of the Utah National Guard, we want to express our gratitude to Mr. Potts for his exemplary service to this nation.”
According to the press release, Potts was in the harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese aircraft executed a surprise attack on the Hawaiian U.S. Navy stronghold. He was in the process of shuttling supplies to the USS Arizona, the ship he was assigned to when the chaotic scene unfolded. When the attacks began, he jumped to the rescue of possibly hundreds of sailors, picking them up in his boat and carrying them to Ford Island for safety.
Potts then witnessed firsthand the explosion of his ship and its sinking. Over 1,100 of his crewmates on the USS Arizona were lost in the wreckage.
Speaking to ABC4 while Potts was enjoying his birthday flight, his son, Wayne, says the memories of that day over 79 years ago still impact his father. Potts doesn’t like to talk about it much, according to his son.
On the 65th anniversary of the attacks, Potts and his family returned to Pearl Harbor to view the memorial and the still-sunken Arizona.
“It was one of the only times I’ve seen him cry,” says Potts of his father’s reaction to returning to his old ship and seeing his lost shipmates’ names on the memorial wall.
Potts also added that they are looking forward to taking the war hero back to Pearl Harbor for the 80th anniversary in December.
Shortly after World War II, Potts, who was born in Honey Bend, Illinois, moved to Provo where he opened a small car dealership. Years later, Potts would be recognized in the Beehive State for his bravery in the conflict. Governor Spencer J. Cox declared Thursday “Ken Potts Recognition Day in Utah.” Potts was also contacted and given appreciation by the White House and had a mini-parade of sorts in front of his house in Utah County, with cars passing by to wave, honk, and salute the former serviceman.
Nikki Stratton, a friend of Potts through her grandfather, Donald Stratton, who served with Potts on the USS Arizona, said that Potts was excited and happy to enjoy a flight through the Utah skies on his birthday. Before taking off at Provo Tac Air on Thursday afternoon, he insisted that his wife fly with him.
“I think she was a little bit nervous about going up but they’re a package deal, where one goes, the other goes,” says Stratton of the Potts. “It’s been like that for 60-plus years. They have an incredible relationship and bond. Ken said he wanted her up there and so Doris, being the incredible woman that she is, sat right next to him.”