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Lou Conter, Last Survivor of the Battleship Arizona, Dies at 102

U.S.Lou Conter, Last Survivor of the Battleship Arizona, Dies at 102

Lou Conter, the last known survivor of the battleship Arizona, which sank with the loss of 1,177 sailors and Marines in Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II, died on Monday at his home in Grass Valley, Calif. He was 102.

The death was confirmed by Warren R. Hull, a co-writer (with his wife, Annette Hull) of Mr. Conter’s 2021 memoir, “The Lou Conter Story: From U.S.S. Arizona Survivor to Unsung American Hero.”

Mr. Conter, who held the rank of quartermaster, a position assisting in the Arizona’s navigation, was on his shift shortly after 8 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when a Japanese armor-piercing bomb penetrated five steel decks and blew up more than one million pounds of gunpowder and thousands of rounds of ammunition stored in its hull as the ship was moored in the harbor, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“The ship was consumed in a giant fireball,” he wrote in his memoir.

Mr. Conter, who was knocked forward but uninjured, tended to survivors, many of them blinded and badly burned. When the order to abandon ship came, he was knee deep in water. A lifeboat took him ashore, and in the days that followed he helped in recovering bodies and putting out fires. Only 93 of those who were aboard the ship at the time lived; 242 other crew members were ashore.

Mr. Conter later attended Navy flight school and flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific, some of them involving nighttime dive bombing of Japanese targets. During one three-night period, his crew rescued 219 Australian coast watchers from New Guinea who were in danger of being overrun by approaching Japanese. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for that exploit.

Holding the rank of lieutenant, Mr. Conter went on to fly 29 combat missions during the Korean War and serve as an intelligence officer for a Navy aircraft carrier group. In the late 1950s, he helped establish the Navy’s first SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) to train Navy airmen in how to survive if they were shot down in the jungle and captured.


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