Hank Potter was Jimmy Doolittle’s navigator in the first plane to launch for their famous Tokyo Raid. Born in Pierre, South Dakota, 1918, Henry “Hank” Potter entered the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet in July of 1940, and graduated as a navigator from Barksdale Field, Louisiana in April 1941. Flying Cadet Potter entered active duty with the 34th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group, McChord Field, Tacoma, Washington, and received his commission as a second lieutenant on 1 July 1941. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack the 17th Bomb Group was stationed at Pendleton, Oregon.
The Group immediately began anti-submarine patrols off the coast of Oregon and Washington, during which one of the crews received credit for sinking a Japanese submarine near the mouth of the Columbia River. In late January and early February 1942 the Group was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina. It was here that Potter volunteered for a top-secret mission under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. It wasn’t for some time that these men were to learn that the mission for which they had volunteered, and so diligently trained, was to be the first American bombing of the islands of Japan. Following intensive training at Eglin Army Airfield in the Florida panhandle, the crews flew their North American B-25 Mitchell’s to Alameda Naval Base in California. Sixteen of the aircraft were then loaded onto the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and set sail 1 April 1942. On 18 April, only four months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Doolittle Raiders accomplished the first air raid on Japan.
Potter had the enormous responsibility of being the navigator of B-25 number one, piloted by Jimmy Doolittle himself. Launching 250 miles early because a Japanese fishing boat had spotted them, all 16 aircraft had to ditch or crash land after striking their targets; they simply did not have enough fuel to make it to their intended Chinese landing sites. After the mission, Potter returned to the United States, rejoined the 17th Bomb Group, and went to North Africa where he completed a combat tour in the Douglas B-26 Marauder. Upon completion of that tour, he was re-assigned as an instructor, training combat crews in Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, and Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft.
Following the war and until his retirement, he was assigned to various commands including the Eglin Air Proving Ground, the USAF Missile Test Center, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and Headquarters, United States Air Force. Colonel Henry Potter retired in March 1970, and currently lives in Texas where he spends much of his time working with various veterans’ organizations, and the Confederate Air Force.