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Clarence Alfred Potterfield
1943 Charleston newspaper photo of Second
Lieutenant Clarence A. Potterfield
announcing the posthumous awarding of
his Silver Star and Purple Heart

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Clarence Alfred Potterfield

"Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."

President Harry S Truman

On July 22, 1917, Garland Blair Potterfield and his wife Phyllis Henderson Potterfield of Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, welcomed their first son into their household. On that date, Clarence Alfred Potterfield, destined to be a hero in World War II, was born. Mr. Potterfield was a pharmacist (referred to as a "druggist" at the time) who dispensed medications from a drugstore on Capitol Street. Four years later, Garland and Phyllis would add another son, Thomas G. Potterfield. Thomas (1921-2019) became a well-known pediatrician, practicing privately in Charleston and serving as professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University Medical School in the city. The longevity of Thomas was not to be for Clarence, who would lose his life at the age of 25 in North Africa in World War II.

One can imagine that Clarence and Thomas grew up in a typical early 20th century, middle America, small city, family. They attended Sacred Heart Grade School and graduated from Charleston Catholic High School. At this point, their lives and careers diverged. Clarence went from high school to West Virginia University, where he joined the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. After four years of college, he entered law school. Of course, while he was in law school, the attack on Pearl Harbor--a date which will live in infamy--occurred. Clarence enlisted in the U. S. Army. While the family lived in Fort Hill, Clarence's draft card indicates the person who would always know his address was his father, and he listed an address of 123 Capitol Street for him.

Upon his enlistment in 1941, Clarence was branched infantry, where he became a member of Company F, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. As a second lieutenant, he served as an infantry unit commander. The unit was dispatched to the Africa Theater of Operations/Algeria-French Morocco Campaign (1942) and the Tunisia Campaign (1942-1943). ("Potterfield, Clarence A., 2LT," TogetherWeServed, accessed 13 April 2021,

According to its Wikipedia entry, the 34th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army is part of the National Guard. It was the first American Division deployed to Europe in World War II. But before it entered Europe via Naples-Foggia, it was engaged valiantly in North Africa. The combat chronicle for this period goes like this:

On 8 January 1942, the 34th Division was transported by train to Fort Dix, New Jersey to quickly prepare for overseas movement. The first contingent embarked at Brooklyn on 14 January 1942 and sailed from New York the next day. The initial group of 4,508 men stepped ashore at 12:15 hrs on 26 January 1942 at Dufferin Quay, Belfast, Northern Ireland. They were met by a delegation including the Governor (Duke of Abercorn), the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (John Miller Andrews), the Commander of British Troops Northern Ireland (Lieutenant General Sir Harold Franklyn), and the Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair).

While in Northern Ireland [Division Commander Russell] Hartle was tasked with organizing an American version of the British Commandos, a group of small "hit and run" forces, and promoted his aide-de-camp, Captain William Orlando Darby to lead the new unit. Darby assembled volunteers, and of the first 500 U.S. Army Rangers, 281 came from the 34th Infantry Division. On 20 May 1942, Hartle was designated commanding general of V Corps and Major General Charles Ryder, a distinguished veteran of World War I, took command of the 34th Division. The division trained in Northern Ireland until it boarded ships to travel to North Arica [sic] for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, in November 1942.

The 34th, under command of Major General Ryder, saw its first combat in French Algeria on 8 November 1942. As a member of the Eastern Task Force, which included two brigades of the British 78th Infantry Division, and two British Commando units, they landed at Algiers and seized the port and outlying airfields. Elements of the 34th Division took part in numerous subsequent engagements in Tunisia during the Allied build-up, notable at Sened Station, Sidi Bou Zid and Faid Pass, Sbeitla, and Fondouk Gap. In April the division assaulted Hill 609, capturing it on 1 May 1943, and then drove through Couigui Pass to Teboura and Ferryville. The Battle of Tunisia was won, and the Axis forces surrendered. ("34th Infantry Division [United States]," Wikipedia, last updated 18 April 2021, accessed 20 April 2021,

Lieutenant Potterfield would have been in the thick of the action in these operations, and two events in particular need to be noted. First, on November 1, 1942, his courage shone when, according to a War Department citation, Lt. Potterfield, alone and unarmed, entered an enemy garrison in French Morocco to negotiate for the surrender of enemy forces. The citation continues: "He succeeded in the capitulation of 50 men and saved the lives of many of his own men in so doing .... Terms were reached and the Americans raised the Stars and Stripes in the center of what had been a fortified garrison." For this action he would receive the Silver Star. But Lt. Potterfield did not rest on his laurels; he soldiered on. Five months later, on April 1, 1943, he would lose his life. The official cause of death was listed as DOW (died of wounds). A letter from the adjutant general of the War Department to his parents states:

I have the honor to inform you that by direction of the President, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart decoration have been awarded, posthumously, to your son, Second Lieut. Clarence Potterfield, Infantry, who made the supreme sacrifice in the defense of his country, April 1, 1943.

The decorations will be forwarded to the commanding general, fifth service command, Fort Hayes, Columbus, O., for formal presentation to you, and that officer will communicate with you concerning wishes in the matter.

The 34th Division would go on the participate in six major Army campaigns in North Africa and Italy. It is credited with amassing 517 days of front-line combat, second only to the 654 days of fighting by the 32nd Infantry Division. One or more of the 34th Division units were engaged in actual combat for 611 days. Nearly 3,000 members of the Division would be killed in World War II, with more than 11,000 wounded. Eleven members would receive the Medal of Honor, while 1,153 were awarded the Silver Star and 15,000 received the Purple Heart.

In 1949, Clarence's remains were returned to the States, and he was buried in Sunset Memorial Park in South Charleston, West Virginia, where in 1961 and 1964, respectively, his mother and father would also be interred.

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
April 2021


Clarence Alfred Potterfield

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