Last survivor of Japanese attack on USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Lou Conter, dies at 102

The last remaining survivor of the Japanese bombing of the USS Arizona battleship in Pearl Harbor died Monday at 102 years old.

Lou Conter, who served nearly three decades in the US Navy, died at his home in Grass Valley, California surrounded by family members after suffering heart failure, his daughter Louann Daley said.

Conter was one of just 335 Naval officers who survived the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on the Arizona.

The surprise bombing killed 1,177 sailors and marines aboard the ship — nearly half of the 2,403 Americans killed in the attack, which led the US to head to battle in World War II.

Conter, who enlisted at 18, was a quartermaster aboard the Arizona and was standing on the main deck when Japanese planes dropped bombs on the US port in Hawaii just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning.

He recounted the horrific attack many times throughout his life, wrote an autobiography “The Lou Conter Story” detailing his war service, and was interviewed for a 2008 oral history of the Pearl Harbor attack that is now stored at the Library of Congress.

The veteran said a bomb crashed through the ship’s steel deck and set off more than a million pounds of gunpowder stored in the Arizona’s belly.

Flames engulfed everything from the bow to the mainmast, Conter recalled.

“Guys were coming out of the fire, and we were just grabbing them and laying them down,” Conter told KCRA 3 in an interview last year. “They were real bad. You would pick them up by the bodies, and the skin would come off your hands.”

Men began jumping overboard for relief from the fire but the sea was covered in burning oil, he added.

“We started fighting the fire, and we fought the fire until Tuesday,” Conter told the local news station.

The Arizona sank and remains on the bottom of the harbor with the bodies of more than 900 sailors and marines still inside.

Another 20 battleships either sank or suffered significant damage during the bombing.

After surviving the Japanese attack, Conter went to flight school and became a part of the Navy’s “Black Cats” squadron, a fleet of black-colored planes that launched dive bombing during the night.

He survived another attack during that time when he and his crew were shot down near New Guinea in 1943. They spent hours treading water and avoiding sharks until another plane came along and dropped them a lifeboat.

Conter was steadfast in his will to survive. He told another sailor thrust into the dark waters with him that it was “baloney” when he believed they would die there.

“Don’t ever panic in any situation. Survive is the first thing you tell them. Don’t panic or you’re dead,” he said. 

That survival instinct led Conter to become the Navy’s first-ever SERE (Survival, evasion, resistance and escape) officer in the late 1950s. In the role, which he had for roughly a decade, Conter trained Navymen how to make it out alive in different wartime scenarios — including if they’ve been taken as a prisoner of war.

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

He became a regular honoree at Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremonies held by the Navy every Dec. 7 over the years.

The 102-year-old veteran, who was born in Wisconsin and raised in Colorado, was in hospice care for weeks following a February hospital stay.

He died at his home Monday with his daughter, Louann Daley, and two of his sons, James and Jeff, at his bedside. He is also survived by another son, Tony, a stepson Ron Fudge and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Conter will be buried next to his late wife of 45 years, Valerie, in Grass Valley. Valerie died in 2016.

“I’m glad he’s at peace. I’m glad he didn’t suffer. I know when he transitioned over, he had so many people there waiting for him – his wife Val, who he loved dearly,” Daley said.

Some of those waiting for him may be his fellow sailors who were killed aboard the Arizona. Conter called those lost in the attack the true heroes time and time again throughout his life.

“They call a lot of us heroes, and I’ve always said we are not the heroes,” Conter had told KCRA 3. “Heroes are the ones right there that day that lost their lives. They gave everything up. We got back to the States. We got married. We had kids and grandkids. We are still here. They were lost forever right then and there.”

With Conter’s passing, only 19 survivors of the Pearl Habor attack are still alive, according to the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors organization.

With Post wires

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