Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter, Last Survivor of the USS Arizona, Passes Away Aged 102

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On Monday, Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter, the last surviving member of the crew of the battleship USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack, passed away in his Grass Valley, California home. Commander Conter was 102 and died of congestive heart failure, surrounded by his family.

Conter passed away on Monday at his home in Grass Valley, California, following congestive heart failure, his daughter, Louann Daley said, adding she was beside him along with two of her brothers, James and Jeff.

The Arizona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines in the 1941 attack that launched the United States into World War II. The battleship’s dead account for nearly half of those killed in the attack. 

Conter was a quartermaster, standing on the main deck of the Arizona as Japanese planes flew overhead at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7 that year. Sailors were just beginning to hoist colors or raise the flag when the assault began. 

Conter recalled how one bomb penetrated steel decks 13 minutes into the battle and set off more than 1 million pounds (450,000 kilograms) of gunpowder stored below. 

Conter went on to serve in the Navy throughout the war and for many years afterward.

Conter went to flight school after Pearl Harbor, earning his wings to fly PBY patrol bombers, which the Navy used to look for submarines and bomb enemy targets. He flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific with a “Black Cats” squadron, which conducted dive bombing at night in planes painted black.

In 1943, he and his crew where shot down in waters near New Guinea and had to avoid sharks. A sailor expressed doubt they would survive, to which Conter replied, “baloney.”

“Don’t ever panic in any situation. Survive is the first thing you tell them. Don’t panic or you’re dead,” he said. They were quiet and treaded water until another plane came hours later and dropped them a lifeboat.

In the late 1950s, he was made the Navy’s first SERE officer — an acronym for survival, evasion, resistance and escape. He spent the next decade training Navy pilots and crew on how to survive if they’re shot down in the jungle and captured as a prisoner of war. Some of his pupils used his lessons as POWs in Vietnam.

Conter retired in 1967 after 28 years in the Navy.

Lieutenant Commander Conter was fortunate to serve in a time when the U.S. military was on a stronger footing than it is today.

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2,403 Americans were killed in the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by carrier-launched aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy. The attack propelled the United States into the Second World War, with President Franklin Roosevelt asking Congress for a declaration of war; this was also the last time there was a Congressional declaration of war. American involvement in the war would go on until August of 1945, and during this entire time, Lou Conter served in the Pacific theater flying PBY patrol flying boats.

There are now 19 living survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We would do well to honor them as the heroes they are.

The USS Arizona is now a memorial managed by the U.S. National Parks Service. Over 900 of its crew on the morning of the Day That Shall Live in Infamy are still entombed within the body of the battleship.

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