Patterico's Pontifications


Lou Conter, 1921-2024

Filed under: General — JVW @ 9:10 pm

[guest post by JVW]

The final surviving crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, famously sunk by Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, died today at his home in Grass Valley, California at the age of 102. Mr. Conter was the last of the 335 survivors of Arizona, with 1,177 of his shipmates having been killed on that fateful day. Mr. Conter’s daughter told reporters that her father had passed away from congestive heart failure, surrounded by his family.

Louis Anthony Conter was a 20-year-old quartermaster on Arizona that infamous Sunday morning when Imperial Japan plunged the United States into the Second World War. Born in Ojibwa, Wisconsin, Lou’s parents moved the family first to New Mexico then to Colorado then to Kansas and finally back to Colorado. Lou’s father and uncle were both laborers working on road construction crews, while his mother and aunt ran the mess tent for the crew. As with many Americans in the interim between the two World Wars, money was tight which led the Conter family to live on farms and raise vegetables on the side for extra income. Lou recalls being sent out to hunt rabbits so that the family could have meat for dinner. In Denver, Lou’s father found work at Swift & Co. meatpackers, and once Lou graduated from Wheat Ridge High School he too found work at the packing plant.

Lou Conter joined the United States Navy shortly after his eighteenth birthday, in September of 1939. He was sent to San Diego for basic training, and was assigned to Arizona in January of 1940 as a Quartermaster, Third Class. During the Japanese attack, Lou was briefly knocked out by an explosion of an ammunition magazine aboard the ship, then upon reviving helped tend to his wounded shipmates before moving to a lifeboat once the order to abandon ship had been given. In the days to follow, the young sailor would have the difficult task of helping to put out fires and to recover the bodies of the over 2,400 Americans and Hawaiians killed that day.

After his time at Pearl, Lou enrolled in flight school and received his pilot’s wings in November of 1942. He was assigned to VP-11, a Navy patrol squadron, where he flew the VPY Catalina model patrol bomber in the Pacific Theater, near Australia, New Guinea, and Guadalcanal. The squadron, known as the Black Cats, flew nighttime runs in planes that were painted black to avoid detection, and their missions could last for up to thirteen hours. Shot down twice (once by friendly fire), he managed to crash land safely both times and avoid capture, though one time in shark-infested waters near New Guinea the crew had to wait a couple of hours quietly treading water until an allied plane could drop a lifeboat nearby. After being shot down the second time, the crew received a visit from General Douglas MacArthur to boost their morale.

After the war, Lou Conter remained in the navy as an intelligence officer. During the early stages of the Korean War when the U.S. had a shortage of trained pilots, he returned briefly to the cockpit and flew a few missions. He was credited with helping to create the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, and served as a military advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. He retired in 1967 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and became a real estate developer in California. In 2021, the year he turned 100, Mr. Conter published his autobiography.

If you have ever visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you’ve likely been awed by the solemnity and quiet dignity of the setting. Part of the memorial is dedicated to U.S.S. Arizona, and is a floating bridge from which visitors can peer down into the water and see some of the sunken remains of the ship. Survivors from the December 7 attack eighty-two years ago have long had the option of having their ashes interred with their fallen shipmates, and it is said that witnessing this ceremony is a moving experience. I don’t know if Lou Conter has chosen interment aboard his old ship, but he will be the last person with this option. And thus, nearly four score years since the end of the Second World War, a chapter heralding our nation’s entry into that conflict has now come to a close.

May Mr. Conter and all of his shipmates rest in peace, with the satisfaction of having served their country so faithfully.


4 Responses to “Lou Conter, 1921-2024”

  1. The National World War II Museum estimates that we have fewer than 120,000 veterans of that conflict still alive as of last year. Projections forecast that this year we will lose roughly 30,000 more, like Mr. Conter, and by the end of this decade we will by down to about five percent of the number we started the decade with.

    JVW (b02843)

  2. Nice tribute, JVW. Grass Valley is just a hop, skip, and jump from Reno.

    norcal (c00475)

  3. Thank you for this, JVW.

    When I first visited the Arizona monument in 1988 or so, I was—sorry—shocked and surprised to see people giggling and taking photos in that holy place.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  4. When I first visited the Arizona monument in 1988 or so, I was—sorry—shocked and surprised to see people giggling and taking photos in that holy place.

    As a nation, we have lost our sense of solemnity. I guess some of it is because we aren’t as religiously observant as we once were, but I am guessing that a larger part of the problem is that our putrid modern culture as placed our own selves as the very center of public and declared our whims and desires to be more important than any thing so fuddy-duddy as tradition and observance.

    I could go on and on about this (and I usually do). There are plenty of YouTube videos of people acting like jackasses at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and having to be admonished by the guards to shape up. I was at a Catholic funeral a couple of weeks ago, and during communion a number of “mourners” started visiting with each other and talking loudly enough that the priest had to clear his throat and harrumph in order to get people’s attention focused back on the service. I just don’t get how we can be so self-centered and oblivious to situations which demand our respect.

    JVW (5e48d6)

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