Jack Conrad Potter
Colonel – US Army;124th Regimental Combat Team, Company E (World War II);124th Combat Support Battalion (Korean War); and Army Air Force Exchange Service (Vietnam War)
Jack Potter, a career military man, not only fought in three wars, but also fights daily for the rights and benefits of local veterans. He is a champion of veterans’ issues and leads the charge in Marin County for national legislation to ensure veterans receive better benefits and health treatment. He is also a tireless volunteer in numerous veterans’ organizations and his involvement spans decades. Described as a “hell of a guy” and the recipient of “medals upon medals,” Potter is merely a humble man doing what he can for his brothers. The veterans of Marin County are fortunate to have such a champion in their corner.
Jack Conrad Potter was born on March 20, 1919 in Abilene, Kansas. His family relocated often. He attended Commerce High School in San Francisco, California and later graduated from high school in 1935 in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of sixteen. Potter then pursued an undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska until the threat of war changed his career plans. At the age of 21 and still an undergraduate, Potter was one on the first draftees into the Army in 1941. He claims, “I expected to fill a twelve month tour and return to San Francisco.” Sadly, this was wishful thinking for Potter at the time, and his twelve month stint in the Army, turned into a thirty three year long career.
Potter attended basic training at Fort Warren near Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Fort was the training center for twenty thousand Quartermaster Corps and the living conditions were terrible, especially in the harsh winter. The soldiers were housed in wooden structures with no insulation, or interior walls to house the growing number of men. According to Fort Warren records, by February 1943, six thousand candidates had been processed and approximately three thousand eight hundred had graduated. Potter was one of the many in this group.
Next, he went to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). Fort Benning established an officer training program in July 1941 for the Army Infantry. The candidates were drawn from enlisted members and civilian college graduates. OCS is a rigorous twelve week training program to evaluate, train, assess and develop Second Lieutenants for the Army’s sixteen branches. In fact, the need was so great for officers and the ROTC programs could not produce officers quick enough that, the War Department suspended the advanced ROTC course and sent officer candidates directly to Fort Benning. After Fort Benning, Potter was sent for additional Ranger training in California. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 124th Regimental Combat team, Company E. Company E was a heavy weapons platoon that was used as a support group to a number of other platoons in the immediate command area. Usually there is a ratio of one heavy platoon to three basic infantry platoons. The men in this platoon frequently have unique specialist abilities and often include a rifle company, or a long-range support company. Potter was the commander of the rifle company and they were promptly shipped off to the South Pacific. He recalled, “My major worry was I’d lose some of my troops. I was afraid I would do something that would unnecessarily jeopardize them.”
Potter’s first campaign in the South Pacific was the Battle at Guadalcanal. This battle was also called Operation Watchtower and was the first major offensive by the Allied Forces against Japan. In August 1942, Potter along with the Allied Forces landed on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi and the southern Solomon Islands. The objective was to capture these islands occupied by Japan since May 1942 and threaten the Japanese supply and communication routes between the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The allies also wanted to use these islands as bases. Japan was surprised by the allies and Tulagi, Florida (Southern Solomons), and the Henderson Field airbase on Guadalcanal were captured. Three major land battles ensued, seven large naval battles, and continual air battles culminated in the decisive Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. By December 1942, the Japanese abandoned further efforts to retake Guadalcanal, evacuated their remaining forces and conceded the island to the Allies. The Guadalcanal campaign was a significant strategic combined armed victory by the Allied forces over the Japanese and marked the transition from defensive operations to the strategic offensive operations in the Pacific.
Potter and the 124th also served on Espiritu Santo, the largest island in The New Hebrides, islands off the northern coast of Australia. Espiritu Santo served as a military supply and support base, naval harbor, and airfield. The island of Espiritu Santo was the closest Allied held island to the Japanese held Guadalcanal. The Japanese were intent on severing the sea lanes to Australia. Espiritu Santo became critical to the Allied defense of Australia and the Allies prepared a bomber strip. In only twenty days, a six thousand foot airstrip was carved in the jungle. This bomber strip enabled the US and the Allies to launch air attacks disrupting the construction of nearby Japanese air bases. The New Hebrides would end up being a major supply and staging area for the Marines on Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, some 550 miles to the south, was the closest source of supplies.
Following the successes at Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, Potter and his unit moved in February 1943 up the Solomon Island chain and commenced the Bougainville campaign. At the time, it was estimated that the Japanese had between 45,000 to 65,000 military personnel on Bougainville. The first phase of the Allied operation to take Bougainville involved Marine landings and the establishment of a beachhead around Cape Torokina and the possible construction of an airfield. The numerous attacks by the Japanese were defeated.
Long and often bitter jungle warfare continued on Bougainville, with many casualties resulting from malaria and other tropical diseases. Unfortunately for Potter, he contacted malaria twice. The beachhead was eventually expanded and the Japanese were cut off from outside assistance. The Americans were reinforced by the 93rd Infantry, the first African American infantry unit to see action in World War II. The Allies constructed multiple airfields on the island, from which they conducted fighter and bomber operations over Japanese bases in the Pacific. According to Australian intelligence, it is estimated that 8,200 Japanese troops were killed in combat during the American phase of operations at Bougainville, and 16,600 more died of disease and malnutrition.
From 1944 to August 1945, Potter participated in the second phase of the Bougainville Campaign. Japan still had about twenty percent of its personnel in forward positions and was organized in combat capable formations. The objective of the Allies was to adopt an aggressive posture to overwhelm and destroy these forces. Three separate drives followed with the Allies capturing Pearl Ridge in the central sector, the north sector contained with the Japanese forced into the narrow Bonis Peninsula, and the control of the east to west thoroughfares to prevent any counterattacks. Combat operations on Bougainville ended with the surrender of Japanese forces on August21, 1945. The last phase of this campaign resulted in 516 Australians killed and another 1,572 wounded. 8,500 Japanese were killed at the same time, and disease and malnutrition killed another 9,800. In addition, 23,500 Japanese troops and personnel surrendered.
After the success of the Bougainville Campaign, Potter and the 124th Regimental Combat team were sent to Hawaii to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan. Potter recalls he was still aboard ship when the bomb was dropped on Japan. Initially, all personnel were placed on hold until Japan surrendered and the war in the Pacific was over. Potter thereafter served for several months in Hawaii as the control officer of surplus property in the South Pacific. Potter next joined the Occupational Forces of Europe and was sent to Orleans, France and Giessen, Germany to oversee supply efforts.
After the Occupation of Europe, Potter continued to be involved in various capacities with the Supply Services of the Army. He was sent to the Pentagon for five years to serve in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics and was the head of Supply and Finances. From this post, Potter was transferred to a new task force in Washington DC, under the Department of the Secretary of the Army, to help reorganize the supply services in the United States. In the 1950s, after the war in Korea broke out, Potter became the Commander of the 124th Combat Support Battalion and went to Korea twice. His primary duties involved overseeing supply efforts in Pusan, Korea. While in Korea, the major combat had ceased and he was responsible for supplying the military in southern Korea. Potter was proud to state, “We adopted an orphanage near there, fed them and gave them gifts we got from home. They were beautiful kids.” Susceptible to disease due to his previous exposures to malaria, Potter contracted tuberculosis in Korea. A disease that would later plague Potter for the rest of his life.
In the 1960s, after his efforts in Korea, Potter became the Commander of the 3rd Division Battalion in the far west. While serving in this position, he was also able to complete his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland in 1961, and his master’s degree in business administration from George Washington University on June 5, 1963. He also completed courses at the Industrial College of Armed Forces, Army Infantry, Command and General Staff College to learn about war logistic systems in the United States.
During the Vietnam conflict, Potter was assigned as the Commander of the Vietnam Region Exchange which operated more than 150 exchange activities with a total of more than 10,000 personnel in Vietnam. During one of his two tours in Vietnam, Potter was injured while jumping from a helicopter as it landed in Khe Sanh. His reward was two artificial knees. Potter also organized a drive for clothes and candy for two hundred orphans at the Santa Maria Orphanage in Saigon, of which Potter is very proud. After Vietnam, Potter continued his service stateside, in California, where his assignment as Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics for the Sixth U.S. Army brought him to the Presidio in the Bay Area. Potter retired on August 1, 1974 with the esteemed rank of Colonel.
Jack Potter’s much decorated career in the military spanned thirty three years and over three Wars including World War II, Korea and Vietnam; and saw him receive The Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart, and four Legion of Merit Medals. After 31 changes of station, Jack and his wife finally settled down in Marin County, California where Jack became active in veteran’s affairs. He served as President of the United Veterans Council of America, Marin chapter, for numerous years and was also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Novato and the American Legion, Post 37. In addition, he was a member of the San Francisco Board of Education and Sons in Retirement (SIRs); and was a valued member of the Marin Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), where his many accomplishments involved helping save the Marin JROTC program and the VFW, among others. Potter championed numerous veterans’ causes. He was always willing to advocate personally for any veteran that needed help, organized Veterans and Memorial Day events, and even coordinated a Tricare information session with US Congresswoman Woolsey, 6th District.
One of Potter’s most prominent roles in Marin, however, was that of Master of Ceremonies at Marin County’s Memorial Day celebrations. He last served that function in 2009, before retiring for health reasons. Potter also worked with state and national politicians to advance the rights and benefits of veterans. In fact, Potter had such a close relationship with his US Representative, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, that on April 15, 2011, she gave a speech in his honor before the entire House of Representatives. Congresswoman Woolsey noted that Colonel Potter was a “Loyal friend, a brave hero, and a caring individual … that has consistently worked for the benefit of veterans since his retirement.” She further noted, “It has been my privilege to work closely with [Colonel] Potter for eighteen years. His friendship and assistance have been invaluable to me over those years. Through [Colonel] Potter, I learned about veterans’ issues, from the importance of national legislation to ensure they get the benefits they deserve to some of the challenges faced by local veterans in Marin County.” The quiet determination of Colonel Jack Potter, on behalf of all veterans, is a reminder of the daily heroism and sacrifices displayed by of our American troops. He is a hero and friend to all veterans.
Narrative prepared by Nicholas Elsbree on November 10, 2013.