There were three things all 11 children understood growing up in the Potts family. There were no debates about going to church on Sunday or helping on the family farm in Crestwood. And when they were old enough, the boys would sign up to serve in the military.
“My dad was extremely patriotic,” said Andy Potts, 84, a longtime member of Southeast Christian Church. “He taught us to take care of children, the elderly and serve our country.”
Potts was just 6 when his three oldest brothers enlisted in the Army during World War II. Watching them leave without knowing what was ahead was hard.
“I remember Mother and Dad taking them to the train station,” Potts said. “They were crying. No one knew where they’d be stationed or what they’d face. Any letters we got came from the Army Postal Service in New York or San Francisco. Often parts were redacted.”
Those three sons were gone four long years as they served in France and Germany. They could have applied for a deferment to work on the farm, but Potts’ dad never considered it. Deep-seated patriotism drove them to give their best. The family prayed continually.
“The youngest of the three and his wife had a baby two weeks after he was sent overseas,” Potts said. “Four years later, he saw his son for the first time.”
The fourth son enlisted just after World War II ended, and the youngest two sons, including Potts, enlisted during the Korean War.
Potts remembers Korea as bitterly cold, cloudy and depressing.
Though all six sons served in dangerous places, all came home. That, Potts said, is a miracle. He credits prayer for their safe return at the same time saying other families prayed through loss.
From 1953 to 1961, Potts served on active duty and in the reserves. He got married while in the service, and his son was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“He cost us $26 plus $1.50 for pictures,” Potts said.
Potts said the discipline he learned in the Army served him throughout his life. Knowing he didn’t want to work on a farm, Potts became a funeral director, comforting the grieving. He knew early on it was a ministry he loved, though he often broke down through the hardest losses. No one knows how many families Potts has comforted.
Potts was baptized at Southeast in 1986 and began volunteering in the Welcome Center. He soon became a fixture in the atrium.
A few months ago, Potts was invited to an Honor Flight to visit monuments in Washington, D.C. Each veteran chooses an escort. He asked retired Southeast Senior Minister Bob Russell to go with him.
They had a police escort through Arlington Cemetery where more than 400,000 soldiers are buried.
“Everything was amazing. When Vietnam Vets came home, they were treated terrible,” Potts said. “Korean veterans had no accolades. But this Honor Flight was amazing. Firetrucks fired water cannons to honor veterans. There were choirs and crowds. At one monument we watched the changing of the guard. We kept hearing a clicking sound. We learned that they click their heels in the presence of World War II veterans.”
When the plane arrived back in Louisville, more than 2,000 people lined the halls to cheer for veterans. They finally heard “Welcome home” and “Thanks for your service.”
Russell said it reminded him of the applause of heaven.