Pearl Harbor survivor looks back on attack, ceremonies reduced because of pandemic

Dec 7, 2020, 6:49 PM
Pearl Harbor...
(The USS Arizona after it was bombed in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japanese pilots on December 7, 1941. Associated Press)
(The USS Arizona after it was bombed in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japanese pilots on December 7, 1941. Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s an emotional time for veterans and their supporters as people honor the 79th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941.  The coronavirus is preventing World War Two vets from seeing the kind of ceremonies they normally would.  Some survivors say they can still remember vivid details about the attack.

The battleship bell of the USS Arizona rang precisely at 7:55 a.m. in Honolulu, according to the Associated Press.  After a moment of silence, F-22 pilots flew “missing man formation” over the memorial.

Provo resident Ken Potts was in Honolulu when the attack started.  Potts was a crew member of the Arizona at the time, but, luckily for him, he went to shore the night before it happened.  He believes that saved his life when so many of his friends were killed.

Potts says, “[I lost] a lot of them.  My best friend died.”

He and his friends rushed back to the ship when they knew it was under fire.  He tried to help his crewmates when they reached the Arizona, but a bomb fell right into the main stack, essentially breaking the ship in two.

“The waves of attack never quit.  There was just one right after another,” he says.

Potts will be turning 100 in April, and he has been getting letters of thanks and praise for many years.  He even has people sending him pictures hoping he will sign them.

He says, “I get a tremendous amount of mail from people from all over.  In fact, last week I got one from Germany and one from France.”

Even though the attack happened nearly 80 years ago, veterans advocates say it remains fresh in the minds if military members and their families.  Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs Executive Director Gary Harter says most people, veterans or civilians, understand how so many people sacrificed their lives to protect others during the attack.

“When people hear ‘Pearl Harbor Day,’ and when they hear ‘D Day,’ those have resonance, even today,” he says.

However, he also says it’s natural for the impact of historic events like this to lessen a bit every year.

“Probably, as we’re losing more and more of the World War Two generation.   They have [people] who could speak to those events,” Harter says.  “It’s a lot closer to somebody who was actually there, or the generation that was there.”



Opinion: Pearl Harbor’s lessons for the pandemic

Opinion: Fearful of the pandemic? Anxious? Eleanor Roosevelt has a message for you

Opinion: Fighting spirit of WWII needs to be harnessed against coronavirus

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Pearl Harbor survivor looks back on attack, ceremonies reduced because of pandemic