Former senator Charles E. Potter, who lost both legs as a combat infantryman in World War II and went on to represent Michigan in Congress from 1947 to 1959, died Friday at Walter Reed Hospital. He was 63.
A Republican, he was first elected to Congress to fill an unexpired term in the House of Representatives. He served in the House until winning a special 1952 Senate election to fill the unexpired term of the late senator Arthur H. Vandenburg (R-Mich.). He was defeated for reelection to the Senate in 1958 by the late senator Philip A Hart (D-Mich.).
While in the House, Sen. Potter served two years on the old House Un-American Activities Commitee where he played a leading role in reopening hearings on Communist penetration of Hollywood. He also launched a separate investigation into the alleged spread of communism in Michigan's labor organizations.
Campaigning for the Senate on a ticket of "Americanism," he told audiences that "we have Socialists in high places," and labeled former secretary of state Dean Acheson as "an American Socialist."
After being elected to the Senate, he was assigned to the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee. Many thought he would become a staunch ally of Wisconsin's Republican senator Joseph McCarthy. But Sen. Potter quarrled with McCarthy over the latter's tactics, and especially over McCarthy's staff aides on the subcommittee.
Sen. Potter broke with the Republican majority on the subcommittee to vote with the Democratic minority several times during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Many commentators thought McCarthy was wary of tangling with Sen. Potter because of the Michigan senator's World War II record.
Sen. Potter had enlisted in the Army as a private in World War II. He later received an officer's commission and served with the 28th Infantry Division in Europe. Wounded three times during the Battle of the Bulge, he lost both legs after stepping on a German land mine. He was discharged from the Army in July 1946 with the rank of major. His decorations included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre, and three Purple Hearts.
Following his discharge from the Army, he worked for the Labor Department in Washington as a vocational rehabilitation advisor before returning to Michigan to enter politics.
During Sen. Potter's last years in the Senate he became a strong proponent of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. He was defeated for reelection by Philip Hart in 1958, a year when a recession hit Michigan particularly hard.
A native of Lapeer, Mich., Sen. Potter earned a bachelor's degree in social science at Eastern Michigan University. Before the war, he was administrator of the Cheboygan County (Mich.) Bureau of Social Aid.
He was active in veterans organizations, including the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, AM-VETS, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
After leaving the Senate, he moved to a farm in Queenstown, Md. He was also active in Washington-area real estate ventures and was a business and legislative consultant as president of Potter International.
Survivors include his wife, M. Elizabeth, of Queenstown; a daughter, Wendy Cundy of London, England; a sister, Frances Potter of Lapeer, and one grandchild.