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USS Arizona Survivor Remembers Pearl Harbor

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Seventy-eight years ago today, Japanese forces attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians died that day. Nearly half of them were aboard the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank under heavy strafing and bombing.

There were just 335 survivors of the USS Arizona's crew. Just three are alive today. Ken Potts is the oldest. He is 98 years old. and he joins us from Provo, Utah. Mr. Potts, what an honor to speak with you. Thank you.

KEN POTTS: I'm glad to talk to you. So thanks for calling.

SIMON: What do you remember of that day?

POTTS: I was ashore when it began. The Oklahoma was already turned over on its side.

SIMON: The USS Oklahoma battleship?

POTTS: Yes. And what a mess it was. And by that time, the whole water was on fire - well, the water wasn't on fire, but the oil on top of the water was. We - they were picking up people out of the water and helping them get back to the ship that they belonged on if it wasn't already sank.

SIMON: You went back to the ship, didn't you?

POTTS: Oh yes.

SIMON: Even though it was under fire?

POTTS: Yeah, it was still under fire when I was on my way back to it, but that was what I was supposed to do.

SIMON: So how did you survive, sir?

POTTS: I just lucky I guess. My best friend on there, (unintelligible) he was killed. But when the big bomb was dropped that really tore it apart, I wasn't back on it by that time.

SIMON: What do you want us to remember on this day, December 7?

POTTS: Nothing. I'd just as soon forget it all. I don't want to dwell on it.

SIMON: I guess living through it once is enough.

POTTS: That's enough. See, I could be in Pearl Harbor today, all expenses paid. But I'm not. I'm here at home.

SIMON: Yeah. How are you these days, Mr. Potts?

POTTS: Well, for a man my age, I'd say pretty good. Mostly all of our friends is gone. My wife and I are the only two left.

SIMON: Your wife is still with you? That's wonderful. A gentleman shouldn't ask, but how old is your wife?

POTTS: Well, I'll make sure she ain't got a gun to her hand. She's 85, and she's laughing.

SIMON: I - you know, I guess I have to just be the millionth person in the world to say thank you.

POTTS: Well, that's too bad we didn't get to use our training.

SIMON: Training you went through to...

POTTS: Protect the world.

SIMON: Well, didn't quite work out that day. But America rallied, didn't it?

POTTS: Oh, yeah. That's something I still can't believe how fast they did that.

SIMON: Ken Potts, the oldest survivor of the attack at Pearl Harbor. He was on the USS Arizona 78 years ago today. Thanks so much for being with us.

POTTS: You're welcome, and good luck to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANTOMPOWER'S "FREE (AT EASE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.