Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Howard “Ken” Potts, who served on USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
Howard “Ken” Potts was born and raised in the small farm town of Honey Bend, Illinois. Due to a national job shortage at the time, he enlisted in the Navy in October 1939 at the age of 18. By December 1939, Potts was aboard USS Arizona. During his first two years on USS Arizona, he operated the cranes on the ship to retrieve small seaplanes after they landed in the water.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Potts was returning to the ship with a load of fruits and vegetables when the first Japanese warplanes began to attack the Navy base. As bombs fell on the harbor, Potts made his way back to USS Arizona and worked to rescue some of his shipmates from the water and those wounded aboard the ship. USS Arizona began to sink, causing Potts and his shipmates to comply with an order to abandon ship.
Potts boarded a transport craft headed toward Ford Island, where he and other crewmembers eventually regrouped. On his way to the island, Potts continued to help rescue men from the water. After the attack, Potts served on a diving crew that retrieved the bodies from ships that sunk during the bombings. Most of his dives involved USS Arizona. Potts said in an interview with the American Veterans Center, “It was the worst job I ever had.”
A few weeks later, Potts went to a new assignment at the Office of the Port Director. He delivered sealed envelopes that required special clearance and relayed military secrets, new orders and other classified information to the ships’ captains. In an interview with azcentral.com, Potts recalled that this role “was boring, but it was a lot better than being shot at.” He continued to work for the Office of the Port Director in Honolulu until World War II ended.
After receiving orders to go back to the United States, Potts sailed to San Francisco before returning home to Illinois in late 1945. That same year, he discharged from the Navy and began working for a contractor building houses. Potts eventually moved to Payson, Utah, and continued working as a carpenter. He later relocated to Provo, Utah, and worked in the used car business until his retirement in 1990. In 2011, Potts and his wife returned to Honolulu to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
We honor his service.
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Writer: Amanda Baker
Editor: Katie Wang
Fact checker: Ciara Nalda
Graphic artist: Courtney Carr