Last Remaining Survivor of USS Arizona Passes Away at 102

USS Arizona's superstructure after the attack (Naval History and Heritage Command)
USS Arizona's superstructure after the attack (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Published Apr 2, 2024 12:28 AM by The Maritime Executive


Lou Conter, the last remaining survivor of the lost battleship USS Arizona, has passed away at the age of 102. He was one of 335 sailors who survived the Japanese strike on the warship during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 - and just one of 93 survivors who had been on the ship. 

Conter was a quartermaster aboard Arizona, which was at her berth next to a repair ship when Japanese bombers arrived at about 0800 that morning. One bomb detonated a magazine, setting off more than one million pounds of gunpowder for her cannons. The blast tore through the ship from the forward turrets aft, and she partially sank at her berth. The wreckage above the waterline continued to burn for two days. 

242 crewmembers were ashore at the time of the attack and survived. Just 93, including Conter, managed to abandon ship and escape. 1,177  perished aboard the battleship, including the commanding officer and the and their names are recorded at the USS Arizona Memorial. 

Conter helped with the post-casualty response, which continued for five days after the attack. As the U.S. Navy geared up for full-scale war with Japan, he enlisted in flight school, and he was assigned to a PBY seaplane squadron tasked with search and rescue, reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare. He flew about 200 combat missions across the Pacific Theater. He was shot down twice, survived sharks once, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission to rescue nearly 220 Australian servicemembers.

Then-Lieutenant Conter became van intelligence officer and went on to fly in combat in the Korean War. He took his lessons-learned back to the U.S., where he helped found the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. SERE would be a critical training tool for U.S. Navy aviators in the Vietnam War, and Conter's contributions remain valued today. 

Conter retired in 1967 at the rank of Lieutenant Commander, after nearly three decades in the Navy. He pursued a career in real estate in California after his service. He was married to his late wife, Valerie Conter, for 45 years; She passed away in 2016, and Conter will be buried next to her, the family told AP. 

“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. He had an exemplary career in the Navy and was steadfast in imploring the schools, parents and everyday Americans to always remember Pearl Harbor," said said Aileen Utterdyke, president and CEO of Pacific Historic Parks.