Last Survivor of USS Arizona, Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter, Dies at 102

Lou Conter died in his Grass Valley home on Monday. He was the last surviving crew member of the USS Arizona at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Commander Conter, who was 102 years old and died from congestive cardiac failure surrounded by family members, passed away in his Grass Valley home on Monday.

Louann Daley, his daughter said that Conter died on Monday, at his home in Grass Valley (California), following congestive cardiac failure. She added that she and her two brothers, James, were beside him.

In the attack of 1941 that brought the United States into World War II, Arizona lost 1,177 Marines and sailors. Nearly half of the dead in the attack were battleships.

Conter, a quartermaster on Arizona’s main deck at the time, was watching as Japanese planes flew over the ship around 7:55 am on December 7th, that year. The attack began as sailors were about to raise their flags or hoist the colors.

Conter remembered how a bomb penetrating steel decks in the 13th minute of battle set off over 1 million pounds (450,000 kg) of gunpowder below.

Conter served in the Navy for the duration of the war, and many years afterward.

Conter attended flight school in the years following Pearl Harbor and earned his wings as a pilot of PBY Patrol Bombers. The Navy used these bombers to search for submarines and to bomb enemy targets. He flew over 200 combat missions with the “Black Cats”, a squadron that conducted night dive bombing in black planes.

He and his crew were shot down near New Guinea in 1943 and had to dodge sharks. Conter responded “Baloney” to a sailor who expressed doubts about their survival.

Never panic. You tell them to survive first. “Don’t panic, or you will die,” he said. They were silent and trod the water until an hour later, another plane dropped a lifeboat.

He was appointed the first SERE officer in the Navy late in the 1950s. SERE stands for survival, evasion resistance, and escape. He spent the following decade teaching Navy pilots, crew, and other personnel how to survive in the jungle if they were captured as prisoners of war. His students used his lessons in Vietnam as POWs.

Conter retired from the Navy in 1967, after 28 years of service.

Lieutenant Commander Conter had the good fortune to serve at a time when the U.S. Military was stronger than today.

The Japanese Imperial Navy launched aircraft from their carrier to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 2,403 Americans died. This attack propelled America into World War II, and President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war. It was the last time that Congress declared war. Lou Conter flew PBY patrol flyboats in the Pacific Theater from August 1945 until the end of the American involvement.

Now, 19 survivors still live from the Pearl Harbor attack. They are heroes and we should honor them.

USS Arizona has been turned into a memorial by the U.S. National Parks Service. More than 900 crew members who were on board the battleship the morning of “The Day That Shall Live In Infamy” are still entombed.