• Last modified 699 days ago (May 25, 2017)


Honors from a namesake

It’s almost Memorial Day again, and it would be no surprise that I’ve been thinking about my father, Edward, a World War II veteran who flew transport planes in the South Pacific.

My great-uncle, Guy Hadsell, also comes to mind. He served in World War II, lending his banking talents to the Army in France, and was one of the most popular men in Europe on paydays.

Then my thoughts drift to other important people who’ve passed from my life, even though the holiday isn’t supposed to be about them at all.

Memorial Day was created to honor service members who died in the line of duty, not veteran survivors who lived on and died long after their service had ended, but folks seem to forget that. It’s not intended to be the day people go to cemeteries to decorate all the graves in their family plots, though the practice is common.

I do have someone in my family tree that regrettably fits the bill, and in one sense I honor him every day of the year. I’m his namesake.

David Barnes Potter is his name, a great-great-uncle if I’m counting my greats correctly. He was born in Emporia in 1897 and enlisted in the Kansas National Guard the day after the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917. A year later, Sergeant Potter was shipped to France, and in September 1918 was killed in the battle of Argonne Forest.

Many years ago in my mother’s attic, I came across boxes of memorabilia that had belonged to my Aunt Bess, Elizabeth Potter Smith, who died in 1982.

In one there were pictures of David. Alas, I may have gotten his name, but I didn’t get his dashing good looks and physique.

There were a few books, each inscribed with his signature. I didn’t get his penmanship, either, but there was something thrilling about seeing a simple signature. It’s the only evidence I can look at and say, “He did that.”

There also was a slide rule in a leather case. When I pulled out David’s slide rule, I didn’t have the foggiest notion how to work it, but that didn’t matter. I moved the parts back and forth, just as he might have.

Next Monday will be David Potter Memorial Day for me, honoring the memory of a man I never knew who stepped up when it counted and died because of it. I suspect he wouldn’t mind too terribly much that others are remembered that day as well. After all, in one way or another, those are people he and his comrades fought and died for. There’s plenty of remembrance to go around.

— david colburn

Last modified May 25, 2017