He Survived Pearl Harbor: 'Guys Were Running Out of the Fire'

Lou Conter, last survivor of USS Arizona attack, dies at 102
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2024 9:34 AM CDT
Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor's USS Arizona Dies at 102
Marine Cpl. Zachariah Jeavons meets Pearl Harbor survivor Lou Conter on Dec. 7, 2019, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

Lou Conter, the last living survivor of the USS Arizona battleship that exploded and sank during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 102. Conter passed away on Monday at his home in Grass Valley, California, following congestive heart failure, daughter Louann Daley said, per the AP.

  • Attack: Conter was a quartermaster on the main deck of the Arizona as Japanese planes flew overhead at 7:55am on Dec. 7, 1941. Conter recalled how one bomb penetrated steel decks 13 minutes into the battle and set off more than 1 million pounds of gunpowder below. The explosion lifted the battleship 30 to 40 feet out of the water, he said during a 2008 oral history interview. Everything was on fire from the mainmast forward, he noted. "Guys were running out of the fire and trying to jump over the sides," Conter said. "Oil all over the sea was burning."

  • Tragedy: The Arizona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines in the attack, accounting for nearly half of those killed at Pearl Harbor.
  • After Pearl Harbor: Conter went to flight school, 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.
  • Another close call: In 1943, Conter and his crew were shot down in waters near New Guinea and had to avoid sharks. A sailor expressed doubt they would survive, to which Conter replied, "Baloney." He added: "Don't panic or you're dead." The men were quiet and treaded water until another plane came hours later and dropped them a lifeboat.
  • Later: In the late 1950s, Conter 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 shot down in the jungle and captured as a POW. Some of his pupils used his lessons as POWs in Vietnam. Conter retired in 1967 after 28 years in the Navy.
  • Survivors: With Conter's death, there are now 19 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack still living, per Kathleen Farley of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.
More on Conter's life here. (More Pearl Harbor stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.