Remembering 'our own' veteran
As Veterans Day approaches, I want to recall our own veteran.
Charles E. Potter Jr., grew up in Warwick and Providence, Rhode Island near the shore. He often saw the ships pass down the bay and watched ships come and go from the Providence shipyard. As a teenager, he worked for the Interstate Navigation Company boat that went from India Point Pier in Providence out to Block Island off the southern coast.
After high school, in 1940 he joined the Navy. It was a way to see the world. He traveled above and below the equator. He traveled farther than anyone else in our family had ever traveled before, and all without air travel.
On a night in August 1942, his romance with ships would take a traumatic turn. In a great sea battle off Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the Japanese would bomb several U.S. and allied ships. Dr. Carpentier, a professor with the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, stated that it was the second worst Naval defeat in U.S. history, second only to Pearl Harbor.
Charles E. Potter, Jr. was a signalman aboard the Vincennes. Close by was the sister ship, the Quincy. The Japanese spotted them and began bombing. This was about 2 a.m. on the night watch. Charles E. Potter, Jr. was on duty, on night watch that night. This positioned him above deck and awake when the bombs hit the ship.
At 2:30 a.m. the Captain of the Vincennes ordered, “Abandon ship.” This was no small matter. In the dark of night, the only lights were bombs and fires burning. There was oil in the water and possibly sharks. More than this, he could not swim.
Stunned and in the chaos, time passes quickly. By 2:35 a.m. the Quincy sinks under the surface and disappears. Then the Vincennes was listing, soon to also sink. Any hesitancy about jumping off the ship into blackened water must resolve into the decision of certain death or possible life. At some point, he jumps. He clung to a piece of lumber to survive. By 2:50 a.m., just 15 minutes after the Quincy sinks, the Vincennes disappears under the sea, never to be seen again.
I recently read that 342 men went down with the Vincennes that night. Many were asleep in the middle of the night when the bomb hit. Floating in the dark water, he was miraculously rescued. According to his sister, my Aunt Virginia, who lived to the age of 99, his whereabouts were unknown for a year.
Charles E. Potter, Jr. was awarded stars and an honorable discharge but he was never one to recount his military accomplishments. Surviving to be the patriarch of our family was his biggest accomplishment.
As I write this in November 2016, he has passed on. He had five children and seven grandchildren and now there are eight great-grandchildren.
The future is unknown. But as we live and move and travel over wider and wider circles, remember the veteran who at age 21 jumped into a blackened sea to survive and make possible the future generations. His daughter,
Mrs. Lorraine Potter-Cooper