HONOLULU — Ken Potts, one of the last two survivors of the battleship USS Arizona, 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, according to Randy Stratton, whose late father, Donald Stratton, was a shipmate and close friend of Potts’s in Arizona.
Stratton said Potts’s mind was fine, but lately he had been having a hard time getting out of bed. When Stratton spoke to Potts on his birthday on April 15, he was happy to have made it to 102.
“But he knew his body was shutting down and he just hoped he could get better, but it turned out not,” 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 transporting supplies to Arizona on the morning of December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, according to a 2021 article from the Utah National Guard.
in a 2020 Oral History Interview with the American Veterans CenterPotts said a loudspeaker ordered the sailors to return to their ships, so he got on a boat.
“When I got back to Pearl Harbor, the whole harbor was on fire,” he said in the interview. «The oil had leaked and it caught fire and was burning.»
Dozens of ships have sunk, capsized or been damaged in the bombing raid on the Hawaiian naval base that catapulted the United States into World War II.
Sailors were thrown or forced to jump into the oily mud 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 deaths represent almost half of the military killed in the attack. Today, the battleship still stands 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 there was also a lot of chaos. He carried his memories of the attack throughout his long life.
“Even after I got out of the Marina, out in the open, and I heard a siren, I was shaking,” he said.
Stratton noted that the only remaining survivor of the Arizona is now Lou Conter, who is 101 and living in California.
«This is history. It’s going to go away,» Stratton said, adding: «And once (Conter) is gone, who tells all his stories?»
Several dozen Arizona survivors have had his ashes buried in the sunken battleship so they could join their shipmates, but Potts did not want that, according to Stratton.
«He said he got off once, he’s not coming back on board,» he said.
Stratton said many Arizona survivors shared a similar dry sense of humor. That included his own father, who was badly burned in the attack and also didn’t want to return to the ship as ashes in an urn.
Potts is survived by his wife, Doris. Information about other survivors was not immediately available.