Spielberg, Hanks and Dan Potter
by Barbara Little, Antelope Valley Press
November 6, 2000

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are in the midst of producing a 13-hour HBO miniseries based on the first U. S. Army paratrooper/infantry unit in World War II. The project mainly comes from the non-fiction book, Band of Brothers, by historian Stephen Ambrose. Dan Potter is a Lancaster man whose family may play a part in the miniseries.

Dan Potter serves as part of Military Customer Support for Honeywell here in the Antelope Valley. His wife Janice is a teacher at Valley View School, and their two children Dana and Elena are students in the Lancaster school system.

This Veterans Day weekend, both Dan and daughter Dana are back in Washington D.C. attending the groundbreaking ceremonies for the World War II memorial. Dana is one of the 29 students from Lancaster High School who produced a veterans program last year at school, the result of which was an invitation to attend the groundbreaking this year.

The involvement in these Veterans projects began a while back when Dan was overseas with Desert Shield in 1990. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne, working with Apache helicopters.

"Of course I knew that the 101st was my dad's old division in World War II, and that he took part in the invasion of Normandy. I mentioned this while there, and subsequently was invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of the brigade commander," Potter related. "There was a lot of conversation about the history of the 101st Screaming Eagles, and that was the start of my search for Dad's personal history with the division."

Potter tells of his brother, Tim, being stationed in England with the Air Force in 1994. "I went to England so the two of us could participate in the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. We never made it because of all the tourists. It was a zoo."

"About a year later, Tim called me, all excited about a new book he'd read, Band of Brothers. I started reading it, couldn't put it down, and began to recognize the stories as being ones my dad had told. I knew my dad's regiment was the 506th, but I didn't know what Company he was in. I called my dad's brother, and he immediately told me Dad belonged to the 2nd Battalion, Easy Company--the very company about which the book was written, and, of course, now the subject of Spielberg and Hanks new miniseries." Potter's continued excitement is evident as he recounts the story.

Fascinated by the stories he read and had heard from his dad, Potter called Ambrose himself, and "had a good long talk with him." Ambrose put Potter in touch with Dick Winters, E Company's commander, who in turn gave him some other leads.

"I called and wrote to some of the other survivors of E Company, and have developed a good relationship with many of them," Potter continued. "I've been invited to their reunions, and have attended some of them."

At the reunions, Potter learned a great deal more about what his dad had gone through than what he'd been told as a young boy. Like most of the WWII veterans, Private George L. Potter, Jr. didn't go on much about his service to his country.

"When Dad came home, and while I was growing up, he relied heavily on alcohol as a tranquilizer for his nightmare memories," Potter recalls. "He would only share with us the funny parts." Private Potter's discharge papers indicate in an unpunctuated series: "Normandy Ardennes Rhineland Central Europe," places where hellish battles were fought. Today we could read: "D-Day, The Battle of the Bulge, A Bridge Too Far, The Road to Berlin."

"But there was nothing on my dad's papers that noted service in Holland or the 'Market Garden Campaign', or the liberation of Eindhoven--all highlighted in Ambrose's book," said Potter.

At one of the reunions of E Company, a woman from Holland recounted the sheer joy of watching the Yanks roll through her town of Eindhoven, hard on the heels of the fleeing German soldiers. As she described the cheers and tears of the Dutch citizens, she told about sitting on the hood of an American Jeep as a young girl, and collecting autographs of the liberators. Dan Potter ran into the woman later in the lobby of his hotel and struck up a conversation with her. Excitedly, she asked him if he would like to look at her autograph book.

"No one will ever know the complete state of suspended time I felt as I opened the tattered old album and saw on the first page the precise handwriting of my dad, George L. Potter, Jr. I'm sure I was holding my breath, because she finally had to shake my arm and bring me back. We talked long into the evening so I could get a sense of the time and place where my dad and his buddies saved the grateful citizens of Eindhoven."

Why wasn't Holland listed on Private Potter's discharge papers? One of his dad's stories swirled around and landed with a thump in his son's memory. Potter remembers his dad laughing about the wild times Easy had when they came back from their six weeks of fighting from D-Day through July 13. Six weeks in the same uniform, no showers, fighting in the mud and blood of Normandy with nothing but C-rations and the constant threat of German artillery and sniper fire.

At the point of exhaustion, they were sea-lifted back to Aldbourne, England for much needed rest and recuperation. There these young boy-soldiers got cleaned up, fed, got some sleep, and into clean uniforms. It was August 18, a Sunday, when the men were marshaled into a green meadow to attend a memorial service for their comrades slain in Normandy. More than 2,000 men gathered in the open field to hear the names of 414 gallant warriors read. And then the troops marched off the field to the melody of "Onward Christian Soldiers."

They knew they were being fattened and rested so they could be sent back to the war front, and the men were itching to have a little fun. The rules were strict: Conduct yourselves properly in Aldbourne, and save your hell-raising for surrounding hamlets.

With back pay in their pockets, the Yanks headed for Swindon (about 80 miles due west of London) to do some pub-crawling. Private Potter borrowed a motorcycle to make the trip, and had an accident on the way back to the base, wrecking the motorbike. A broken leg kept him in the hospital clear up until the time his unit was ready to be dropped back into the war in the Belgium countryside, poised for the road to Berlin via the Market Garden campaign.

Private Potter had not yet been released from the hospital, but his Easy Company comrades were shipping out. Not willing to be left behind, he cut the cast off his leg, got himself and his gear to Membury Airdrome and clambered aboard one of the planes. Obviously, his records were still at the hospital and didn't catch up with him until near the end of the war.

Potter, the son, has been collecting stories and information on his dad for a decade, and became acquainted with Spielberg and Hanks at the dedication of the D-Day memorial in New Orleans this year. Lancaster High student, Dana Potter, is wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the "Band of Brothers" logo while she is back in Washington for the dedication this weekend. Her dad and Uncle Tim are going to be there also, as they memorialize as a family, the father and grandfather, George L. Potter, Jr., and the millions of veterans who fought and died to try to give us a free world.

Copyright 2000 Barbara Little (Reprinted with permission)

PVT George L. Potter, Jr. is identified in an Easy Company, June, 1945 photo.

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