Former P.O.W. Potthoff made positive impact on residents

Columbus said its final farewells on Sunday to a man who taught residents some important lessons even though he didn’t move to the city until nearly the last half of his life.

A memorial service celebrated the life of Gustav T. Potthoff, 94, who died Dec. 22 at his Columbus home.

He’s known locally for several reasons and impacted the lives of residents in multiple ways.

Potthoff, who was born in Indonesia, served in the Dutch Indies Army in World War II.

He was captured by Japanese forces in 1941 and held for about 3½ years. He endured brutal conditions as a prisoner of war while working on the Burma-Thailand railroad that would later become widely known in the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

After Potthoff immigrated to the United States in 1962 and moved to Columbus in 1965 to work at Cummins Engine Co., local residents eventually learned of his story. It was one of survival and the horrors of war to which soldiers are exposed.

Those who heard it certainly gained a greater respect for soldiers because of the sacrifices inherent in their duty. And, his bravery was an inspiration to many — especially local veterans.

Potthoff also reminded residents that good things can come out of bad experiences.

In his 60s and retired, Potthoff directed his energy to painting. He used his artistic skills to effectively and emotionally convey his time in captivity — especially the angels he believed watched over him.

Potthoff’s works were displayed across the community, including locations such as IUPUC, the Bartholomew County Public Library, YES Cinema, the Columbus Learning Center and the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum.

His paintings were a positive outlet for his emotions related to the war, and residents gained more insight through that expression.

Whether through his war story, art, volunteer activities at Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum or a local observance of the national POW-MIA Recognition Day, those who met or learned about Potthoff were the better for it.

The memorial service allowed those he touched to give him a deserved final salute.

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