The governor of Utah recently declared April 15, 2021, to be the state’s official “Ken Potts Recognition Day,” and it’s a well-deserved honor.
Ken Potts is a humble man of few words, but his community knows him as a remarkable hero. He is one of two remaining survivors who was aboard the USS Arizona battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Earlier this month, Ken received a fitting celebration as he reached an incredible milestone: his 100th birthday!
Growing up on a farm in Honey Bend, Illinois, Ken came from modest beginnings. But in 1939, he joined the U.S. Navy, and his life was changed forever.
Serving in the Navy from 1939 to 1945, most of Ken’s time was spent at Pearl Harbor. He left his post in the Navy as a petty officer first class.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Ken was hard at work as a boatswain mate on duty as a crane operator, carrying supplies to the USS Arizona.
As soon as the attack began, Ken immediately jumped to action, using his boat to rescue sailors who had been thrust into the water and delivering them to Ford Island.
He moved tirelessly from the harbor back to Ford Island that day, transferring anywhere from dozens to hundred of sailors to safety, regardless of their condition.
“I still see and feel it … most times as a nightmare. It was unbelievable how it could happen. It was turmoil,” Ken told KSL. “The whole place was on fire. The water was burning because the oil was on fire.”
The National Park Service reported that 1,177 service members aboard the USS Arizona died that day. But that tragic number is much lower than it could have been thanks to the bravery of Ken Potts.
“We are losing that generation,” Ken’s son, Wayne Potts, told 23ABC News. “He cries when he talks to some of the few survivors who were left.”
To celebrate the 100-year-old life of this heroic survivor, the Utah National Guard’s 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion reserved the use of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and took Ken for an honorary ride.
“It is an honor for the Utah National Guard to celebrate this incredible birthday milestone with Mr. Potts,” Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, adjutant general, Utah National Guard, said. “On behalf of the Utah National Guard, we want to express our gratitude to Mr. Potts for his exemplary service to this nation.”
In addition to a personalized birthday message from the White House Secret Service, Ken was thrown his very own parade.
A long line of cars rolled down his street, including city service vehicles and neighbors honking their horns, waving, and saluting Ken as they passed by. Meanwhile, Ken and his wife Doris enjoyed the procession from their front yard.
Pacific Historic Parks in Waipahu, Hawaii, also had visitors and sailors at Pearl Harbor sign giant birthday banners in Ken’s honor so he could display them at his home.
Finally, Ken and his friends and family were presented with an enormous birthday cake and capped off a glorious day of celebration. What a well-deserved honor for such a courageous person!
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