Larry Fletcher Potts may not be a household name in Delaware but his story will be shared with the public through a program called “Nam” presented at Delaware State University Sunday and Monday. The program was researched, written and produced by Rep. Don Blakey (R-Camden).
Potts was a Smyrna resident and Delaware State University graduate who went missing in action during a search and rescue mission during the Vietnam War. The mission was made famous by the movie “Bat 21.”
Potts’ story began when he and his childhood best friend Charles Hammond were in their junior year at Delaware State University.
The duo had been best friends since fourth grade, and aside from a short time they spent living in separate towns during high school, they were constant companions, according to Hammond, who still lives in Milford.
Hammond had always wanted to join the Marine Corps and talked a lot about it while in college. One day Potts came to him and told Hammond that there were some Marine recruiters on campus. The pair jokingly decided to try and enlist as officers in the Marine Corps.
“We knew we wouldn’t qualify to become officers so we took a bet,” Hammond said. “We said we’ll go through, knowing we won’t become officers in the Marine Corps.”
They spoke to recruiters on campus and were then invited to a recruiting center to take a test that would qualify them to be commissioned as officers. Much to the surprise of both men, they made the cut, Hammond said.
“It was just a joke with us,” he said. “I’ll never forget the proctor of the test said, ‘Look you guys did not set the world on fire but you both passed.’ We looked at each other, our eyes were as big as could be.”
Both men were allowed to complete their last year of college before leaving for basic training in August 1969.
When the men arrived, the class was too full. The class was asked if anyone would volunteer to stay behind. Hammond had just gotten married and wanted to complete his training quickly, so Potts volunteered to stay behind.
Hammond finished basic training in February 1970 and Potts graduated in March. They would only see each other one more time, at the Marine Corps Ball of 1970 at Camp Lejune in North Carolina. Before he left camp, Potts told Hammond that he had volunteered to go overseas.
While in Vietnam, Potts embarked on a search and rescue mission to attempt to retrieve Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton from behind enemy lines. Potts never returned from the mission. He was shot down on his birthday, April 7 in 1972 and never heard from again, Blakey said.
Page 2 of 2 - “Potts was a member of a crew that was out looking for a higher ranking officer who had been shot down and his plane got hit by a missile,” he said. “He parachuted out and hit the ground safely but Lt. Potts was captured, as well as his pilot, and no one ever heard from Potts again.”
Blakey, who taught physical education at DSU in the 1960s was reminded of Potts when he came across a photo of the graduating class of 1969. Two men stuck out in the white Marine Corps uniforms. They were Potts and Hammond. Blakey decided that others needed to know who Potts was.
“I thought they were worth being written or talked about,” Blakey said. “They’re Delaware heroes, particularly Potts.”
Local actors will bring to life the story of Potts and Hammond with the help of the DSU Jazz Ensemble, who will perform some of the music of the era. The production is being used to highlight Potts, but it is also an occasion to celebrate soldiers and the Marine Corps. Nov. 10 marks the 238th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.
“People can come to salute the Marine Corps on its birthday on Sunday and then at same time they can travel back with us during the Vietnam War as it unfolds and celebrate the life of a Delawarean, a Kent Countian and a Del State grad,” Blakey said.
Hammond is glad that his friend is getting the recognition that he deserves.
“I hate to say it’s long overdue but we need to do something as a tribute to him,” Hammond said. “I’m glad to be a part of that.”