William E. Potts, 83, a retired lieutenant general in the Army, a decorated veteran of three wars and a military intelligence official in the 1960s and 1970s, died of heart disease Aug. 16 at Powhatan Nursing Home in Falls Church. He was a longtime Arlington resident.
Gen. Potts was born in Heavener, Okla., and graduated from Oklahoma Military Academy (now Rogers State University) in 1941.
At age 20, six weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he passed up an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy to enlist in the Army. He participated in the Normandy landings and led Armored Cavalry forces in reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines for Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army. His unit was so effective in night operations that the German army's general staff dubbed its soldiers "the ghosts of Patton's Army."
He was only 22 years old when Patton gave him a battlefield promotion to major in recognition of his leadership as a battalion commander during the Lorraine campaign. He was seriously wounded during the fighting in France.
After World War II, he commanded the 72nd Tank Battalion in combat during the Korean War and the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment along the border between East Germany and West Germany in the late 1950s.
He also served almost five years in Vietnam, where he was responsible for implementing the buildup of Korean, Australian and New Zealand troops in 1965 and 1966. From 1969 to 1972, he served as head of combined military intelligence in Vietnam.
Between tours of duty in Vietnam, Gen. Potts held a number of positions in military intelligence, including chief of staff of the Army Security Agency and assistant chief of staff for Army intelligence in the Pacific. After his last tour of duty in Vietnam, he served as the Army's assistant chief of staff for intelligence and as deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Gen. Potts received a second undergraduate degree, from the University of Maryland, in the 1950s, as well as two master's degrees from George Washington University, in management and personnel administration in 1955 and in international affairs in 1962. He was a doctoral candidate in executive development and contemporary international relations at American University but was reassigned to Vietnam before finishing the degree.
During his military career, he participated in 15 campaigns and was awarded 51 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the French National Order of the Legion of Honor. He is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.
After his retirement in 1975, Gen. Potts worked for General Research Corp., Computer Sciences Corp. and Raytheon Systems Co. before retiring a second time in 1999. He also headed a team that produced a 20-volume study of the Indochina conflicts for the Department of Defense and consulted with the federal government on intelligence and operational matters for use in future military operations.
His wife, Elaine M. Potts, died in 2005. A son, Daniel W. Potts, died in 1975. A daughter, Madeline M. Potts, died in 1995.
Survivors include three children, Ann A. Aruca of Miami, William E. Potts Jr. of Fairfax Station and Teresa J. Knight of Herndon; six grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.