Ken Potts, one of the last two 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 on Friday at the home in Provo, Utah, that he shared with his wife of 66 years, according to Randy Stratton, whose late father, Donald Stratton, was Potts’s Arizona shipmate and friend.
Stratton said that when he spoke to Potts on his birthday, 15 April, he was happy to have made it to 102. “But he knew that his body was kind of shutting down on him, and he was just hoping that he could get better but turned out not.”
Potts was born and raised in Honey Bend, Illinois. He enlisted in the US navy in 1939. On 7 December 1941, he was working as a crane operator shuttling supplies to the Arizona 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.
“When I got back to Pearl Harbor, the whole harbor was afire,” he said. “The oil had leaked out and caught on fire and was burning.”
Dozens of ships sank, capsized or were damaged in the attack on the Hawaii naval base, which catapulted the US into the second world war. Potts and his fellow sailors pulled others to safety.
The Arizona sank nine minutes after being bombed, its 1,177 dead accounting for nearly half the servicemen killed in the attack. The battleship still sits where it sank, with more than 900 dead interred inside.
Potts recalled decades later that some people were still giving orders in the midst of the attack but there was also chaos.
“Even after I got out of the navy, out in the open, and heard a siren, I’d shake,” he said.
Stratton noted that the only survivor from the Arizona is now Lou Conter, who is 101 and living in California.
“This is history. It’s going away,” Stratton said. “And once [Conter is] gone, who tells all their stories?”
Several dozen Arizona survivors had their ashes interred on the wreck so they could join their shipmates. But Potts didn’t want that, according to Stratton.
“He said he got off once, he’s not going to go back onboard again,” he said.
Stratton said many Arizona survivors shared a similar sense of humor. That included his own father, who was severely burned and did not want to return in an urn.
“I’ve been cremated once. I’m not going to be cremated twice,” Donald Stratton joked, according to the younger Stratton, before his death in 2020 at 97.
“They had that all throughout their lives. They had the sense of humor,” Randy Stratton said. “Our job now is to keep their memories alive.”
Potts is survived by his wife, Doris. Information on other survivors was not immediately available.
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