News Branch Navy

Ken Potts, one of two living survivors of the USS Arizona, passes away

He passed away last Friday at the age of 102.
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ken potts uss arizona pearl harbor survivor obituary
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. (U.S. Navy photo)

Ken Potts, one of the last living survivors of the battleship USS Arizona that was sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, has died at age 102, leaving just one remaining living survivor from the ship’s crew.

Potts grew up in Honey Bend, Illinois, and enlisted in the Navy at age 18 in 1939. He was assigned to the USS Arizona, where he worked as a crane operator. 

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Potts happened to be ashore on liberty. When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor commenced, Potts hopped in a cab, trying to make his way back to his ship.

“When I got back to Pearl Harbor, the whole harbor was afire,” Potts recounted in a 2020 interview with the American Veterans Center. “The oil had leaked and caught on fire and was burning.”

ken potts uss arizona pearl harbor survivor obituary
Ken Potts (U.S. Navy photo)

It was a chaotic scene, with voices announcing over loudspeakers that sailors were to make their way back to their ships. Potts found his way to a pier and then into a small boat heading out into the harbor. Along the way, there were oil-soaked sailors struggling in the water, some of whom Potts and his fellow sailors were able to pull to safety. 

“The noise you can’t imagine, the noise,” Potts said in a 2021 interview. 

Potts was dropped off at the USS Arizona and was on the aft deck when a bomb detonated the ship’s magazine in a massive explosion, sinking it within minutes. 

“That’s when they got on the loudspeaker and said abandon ship. Some of them jumped in the water, some of them swam over to shore,” Potts said in his 2020 interview. “Some of them didn’t make it.”

Potts, however, did. In the days after, he volunteered for a diving crew searching for survivors amidst the wreckage of the ship. “It was the worst job I ever had,” he recalled in his 2020 interview. 

An estimated 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed aboard the Arizona, with just 335 people surviving the sinking. The Pearl Harbor attack killed 2,403 people overall, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 Navy ships. 

Potts remained at Pearl Harbor until leaving the Navy in 1945. After the war, he moved to Provo, Utah with his wife, Doris, and worked as a car salesman. 

Potts’ passing leaves just one sailor, Lou Conter, as a living survivor of the Arizona. 

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