Lou Conter, last survivor of USS Arizona attacked at Pearl Harbor, dead at 102

Lou Conter

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — Lou Conter, the last living survivor from the USS Arizona, which exploded and sank during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, died Monday. He was 102.

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Conter died while surrounded by family in Grass Valley, California, his daughter, Louann Daley, told KCRA-TV. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, Daley told The Associated Press.

He had been in hospice for the past four weeks, KCRA reported.

Conter was 20 when the Japanese attacked the base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, plunging the United States into World War II, according to KOVR-TV.

Conter was a quartermaster, standing on the main deck of the Arizona as Japanese planes flew overhead at 7:55 a.m. on what had been a quiet Sunday morning, the AP reported. Sailors were just beginning to hoist colors or raise the flag on the battleship when the assault began.

“Minute it happened, we sounded general quarters and they were in there and we blew up in about eight minutes, nine minutes,” Conter told the television station in a 2022 interview.

Conter was one of 335 members of the Arizona that survived the attack, Hawaii News Now reported.

The Arizona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines during the attack, accounting for nearly half of the 2,403 Americans killed in the surprise attack, according to the AP.

The explosion lifted the battleship 30 to 40 feet out of the water, Conter said during a 2008 oral history interview stored at the Library of Congress. He said that everything was on fire on the battleship from the mainmast forward, the AP reported.

“As soon as they came in, we knew what was happening,” Conter told KCRA in a 2023 interview. “We knew for six months we were training hard for fighting the Japanese at war. They were dive bombing, and they were right down the ship’s edge. We didn’t have time to look up and see what was coming. They were already right down at the water’s edge. It lasted for about 40 minutes. We took a 50-60-hundred-pound bomb alongside the No. 2 turret. It went through five decks in the forward lower handling room and blew the power up there for the No. 1 and No. 2 turret, and the whole bow came up out of the water.”

Conter went to flight school after Pearl Harbor and flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific with the Black Cats squadron that conducted night dive-bombing runs, the AP reported.

He and his crew were shot down in 1943 in shark-infested waters near New Guinea. Crew members did not panic and treaded water until another plane arrived hours later and dropped them a lifeboat, according to the news organization.

After World War II, Conter would fly combat missions during the Korean War, Hawaii News Now reported. He is credited with creating the Navy’s first SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) program during the 1950s, according to the news outlet.

He was also a military advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

“This is a heartbreaking loss. Lou Conter epitomized what it meant to be a member of the Greatest Generation, Americans whose collective courage, accomplishments and sacrifices saved our country from tyranny,” Aileen Utterdyke, president and CEO of Pacific Historic Parks said in a statement.

Fewer than two dozen of the overall survivors from the attack are still alive, KOVR reported. Conter became the last living survivor from the Arizona in April 2023, when Ken Potts died at age 102, according to KCRA.

Dick Higgins, a radioman assigned to a patrol squadron of seaplanes based at Pearl Harbor when the attack occurred, died on March 19.

Conter published an autobiography in 2021, “The Lou Conter Story: From USS Arizona Survivor to Unsung American Hero.”

He was born in Ojibwa, Wisconsin, on Sept. 13, 1921, and his family later moved to Colorado, according to the AP. Conter retired in 1967 after serving 28 years in the Navy.

The wreckage of the Arizona still lies in the waters where it sank, the AP reported. More than 900 sailors and Marines remain entombed inside the battleship.