Ken Potts, one of last USS Arizona survivors, dies at 102

Written by: Amos Osrah
In this photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, former U.S. Navy coxswain Howard "Ken" Potts attends the Freedom Bell Opening Ceremony and Bell Ringing at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 6, 2016. Potts, one of the last two remaining survivors of the USS Arizona battleship, which sank during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday, April 21, 2023, in Provo, Utah. Howard Kenton Potts was 102. (Lance Cpl. Robert Sweet/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

Ken Potts, one of the final two survivors of the sinking of the USS Arizona battleship during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 102.

According to Randy Stratton, whose late father, Donald Stratton, was Potts’ Arizona shipmate and close friend, Howard Kenton Potts died Friday at the house he shared with his wife of 66 years in Provo, Utah.

Ken Potts, one of last USS Arizona survivors, dies at 102
Ken Potts, 95, talks about his experience during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at his home in Provo Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Potts is one of five men still alive who served on the USS Arizona during the attack Dec. 7, 1941.

Stratton claimed Potts “had all his marbles” but was having difficulty getting out of bed lately. Potts was pleased to have reached the age of 102 when Stratton spoke with him on his birthday, April 15.

“But he knew that his body was kind of shutting down on him, and he was just hoping that 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 shuttling supplies to the Arizona the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 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 so he got on a boat.

“When I got back to Pearl Harbor, the whole harbor was afire,” He said in the interview. “The oil had leaked out and caught on fire and was burning.”

Dozens of ships either sank, capsized or were damaged in the bombing of the Hawaii naval base, which catapulted the U.S. into World War II.

Sailors were tossed or forced to jump into the oily muck below, and Potts and his fellow sailors pulled some to safety in their boat.

Ken Potts, one of last USS Arizona survivors, dies at 102

The Arizona sank nine minutes after being destroyed, accounting for roughly half of the sailors killed in the attack. The warship remains where it sank eight decades ago, with over 900 victims entombed within.

Potts claimed decades later that as the attack was going on, some individuals were still giving commands, but there was also a lot of pandemonium. He carried the memory of the incident with him for the rest of his life.

“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 remaining survivor from the Arizona is now Lou Conter, who is 101 and living in California.

“This is history. It’s going away,” Stratton said, adding: “And once (Conter is) gone, who tells all their stories?”

Several dozen Arizona survivors have had their ashes interred on the sunken battleship 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 on board again,” he said.

According to Stratton, many Arizona survivors have a similar dry sense of humor. This included his own father, who was severely burned in the attack and did not wish to return to the ship as ashes in an urn.

“‘I’ve been cremated once. “I’m not going to be cremated twice,” Donald Stratton remarked, according to the younger Stratton, before his death in 2020 at the age of 97.

“They had that their entire lives.” “They had a sense of humor, and they knew they were going to die sooner or later,” Randy Stratton recalled. “Our job now is to keep their memories alive.”

Potts is survived by his wife, Doris. Information on other surviving was not immediately available.

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