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Pearl Harbor Hero Recognized on his 100th Birthday

Pearl Harbor Hero Recognized on his 100th Birthday

The nation went all out for US Navy veteran Ken Potts’ centennial birthday on Thursday, April 15. As one of two surviving service members from the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Potts is certainly deserving of the pomp and circumstance. His story is an excellent example of true service and love of country.

Presentation of Pearl Harbor Navy Paddles paddle to Ken Potts on his 100th birthday.

Potts joined the Navy towards the tail-end of the Great Depression in 1939 when he was 18 years old. Two years later, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor on the USS Arizona as a crane operator. He was aboard the Arizona the morning of December 7, 1941 when the ship suffered the infamous Japanese airstrike on Pearl Harbor, killing nearly 2,000 Americans. 

Potts was above-deck at the time of the attack, enabling him to escape in a transport craft before the battleship went down. With this attack on Pearl Harbor, Potts saw the beginning of the US’ involvement in World War II. He saw the war through to the very end from his station in Pearl Harbor before returning to civilian life. Since, Potts has lived in Provo, Utah for 54 years with his beloved wife Doris.

Let the Festivities Begin!

Potts was treated to a wide variety of birthday festivities. Governor Spencer Cox of Utah declared April 15 as “Ken Potts Recognition Day” to honor the long-time Utah resident and his ties to Pearl Harbor. The Utah National Guard’s 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion also took Potts on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flight to thank him for his historic service. 

The Navy didn’t miss out on celebrating Potts either; he had a private celebration with Navy officials, a Navy flyover, and a special presentation of a Pearl Harbor-themed Navy Paddles paddle and other gifts to commemorate the day. To round out the day, a parade went by Potts’ home waving plenty of American flags, Navy flags, and birthday posters to honor him. 

A Commemorative Pearl Harbor Paddle to Honor the Hero

The paddle made for Boatswain’s Mate Potts featured several coins, quotes, and images to add to his growing “man cave” of Pearl Harbor memorabilia. The grip of the paddle on the front holds a USS Arizona, BB-39 coin with the battleship’s silhouette over the waters of Pearl Harbor. 

Two crisscrossed anchors are engraved above another coin from the University of Utah and the Navy Operational Support Center of Salt Lake City. 

The image plate shows Potts as a young enlisted sailor while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Engraved below is a note thanking Potts again for his service, and a fiery quote from him: “It ain’t worth a damn if it ain’t loaded.” 

Three other commemorative Pearl Harbor coins decorate the rest of the paddle, reflecting Potts storied military service.

Legends Never Die

Today, Ken Potts and Lou Conter, who will turn 100 in September, are the only living Americans who were aboard the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attacks. While centennial birthdays are usually quite notable, these are particularly momentous. 

Potts and Conter are living memorials of the historic day that caused the US to enter WWII. They saw the Pearl Harbor attack firsthand and have lived through the following 80 years of military progress and history in the US. 

In response to the planned celebrations, Potts said, “I have people coming from all over the country. I think it’s getting out of hand.” His personal humility concerning his achievements and experiences only emphasizes the greatness of his service to our nation. 

Happy Birthday, Ken Potts! Thank you – and all other active and retired service members – for your sacrifices and service at Pearl Harbor and all over the world.

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