Bob Pothier grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, with his older sister Ann and his younger brother Jerry. His dad was a printer, while his mom raised the children and later worked for the state. Fond childhood memories included watching the television show “Victory at Sea” with his father, and Bob decided that he wanted to become a Naval Aviator. Beginning in his freshman year in high school, he wrote to his senator to request a nomination to the Naval Academy, and every year he took the admissions test. As a senior, he applied to Tufts, Boston College, and the University of Lowell, in addition to Annapolis. He remembers the day his senator called him with news of his nomination, and he reported to the Naval Academy in July, 1963. He recalls the heat, and the feeling of being scared mixed with the desire to succeed. He felt that his strong Boston accent gave him an advantage because it was so incomprehensible that he was assigned another plebe to act as his interpreter, and he felt that the humor this injected into the process was beneficial. He did well enough academically that he was able to pick aviation as a branch, but difficulties with an eye test almost prevented him from flying off carriers (which ended up being his strongest ability in flight school). During flight school, he wanted to fly the A-1 Skyraider because it reminded him of the Corsairs he watched on television as a child. The Navy was phasing out the Skyraider program, and he selected rotary-wing aviation instead. He trained on the H-13 and H-34, but flew the UH-1B gunship in Vietnam. He deployed to Vietnam on April 15, 1969, and was assigned to HA(L)-3, Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 3 (the Seawolves), which was initially headquartered in Vung Tau, but later moved to Binh Tuy and Rach Gia (along the coast). He first flew with Detachment 7 and later Detachment 8. Each detachment consisted of two helicopters with eight pilots and eight door gunners, or four full crews. His missions generally consisted of providing close air support to PBRs and Swift Boats, or inserting SEALs. Occasionally he provided covering fire for dustoff missions, frequently at night. During his year in Vietnam, he flew 600 missions. After returning from overseas, he was assigned to a Rescue Squadron in Lakehurst, New Jersey, flying off of the aircraft carriers USS Kennedy and USS America. He remembers the Kent State tragedy occurring a few weeks after he returned from Vietnam. After leaving the Navy, he worked for Polaroid, and is now a regional manager in the financial industry.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood and his desire to be a naval aviator. He remembers his time at Annapolis, highlighting President Kennedy’s assassination and the Army-Navy football game that followed. He discusses his service in Vietnam with the Seawolves, a unit that was never stationed state-side, only existing for its five-year tour in Vietnam. He describes his cruises in the Mediterranean, including flying a rescue mission when a sailor was blown overboard by a jet blast, life aboard a carrier, and touring Europe. Finally, he reflects on his service and the Naval Academy, stating “it defines who you are.”