Last known survivor of Pearl Harbor's USS Arizona recounts deadly
Last known survivor of Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona recounts deadly Japanese bombing that claimed 334 American lives: ‘I consider the heroes the ones that gave their lives’
- In April, Conter became the last known survivor after his former crewmate, Ken Potts, passed away at the age of 102
- This is the first Memorial Day, Conter will be spending as the last remaining survivor
- Conter plans to fulfill his new mission of returning to Pearl Harbor for the annual remembrance event in December for the first time in four years
Lou Conter, who is now 101, is the last known survivor of the USS Arizona. He was just 20-years-old when the warship he was on was bombed by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
In April, Conter became the last known survivor after his former crewmate, Ken Potts, passed away at the age of 102.
This is the first Memorial Day, Conter will be spending as the last remaining survivor of the deadly Japanese bombing.
When the USS Arizona sunk during the bombings, Conter bravely rescued his fellow crewmates from the burning ship.
Despite helping he crewmates to safety on that day 82 years ago, Conter refuses to be called a hero: ‘I consider the heroes the ones that gave their lives, that never came home to their families,’ he said.
Lou Conter, is the last known survivor of the USS Arizona (Nov. 18, 2022)
Lou Conter, who is now 101, was just 20-years-old when the warship he was on was bombed by the Japanese during the attack on Pear Harbor in 1941
‘They’re the real heroes,’ he said to the Wall Street Journal.
He describes the harrowing experience of guiding the injured men to shore in his 2021 book ‘The Lou Conter Story.’
‘As we guided these men to safety, more often than not, their burned skin would come off on our hands,’ Conter wrote.
Conter said he often wonders why he was one of the few who made it out alive.
‘God didn’t want you to go that time,’ he tells himself. ‘There’s a lot more for you to do for the country.’
The bombing of the USS Arizona was the deadliest event of the Pearl Harbor attacks, claiming the lives of 1,117 people out of the total 2,403 casualties.
On December 6, 1941, the Arizona returned to its base at Pearl Harbor.
At around 8 a.m. the next morning, Japan launched a surprise attack on the naval base. For the next two hours, more than 350 Japanese aircraft, including torpedo planes, bombers, and fighters, dropped bombs on U.S. vessels.
The Arizona was struck at about 8:10 a.m. by a 1,760-pound or 800-kg projectile.
The impact caused the ship to light on fire, creating a massive explosion that reportedly lifted the battleship out of the water. While sinking, the ship was struck with more bombs.
Conter was one of the fortunate 334 individuals who survived from the USS Arizona.
The Arizona sank just nine minutes after being bombed, and its 1,177 dead account for nearly half the servicemen killed in the attack.
Today the battleship still sits where it sank eight decades ago, with more than 900 dead entombed inside.
This is the first Memorial Day, Conter (center) will be spending as the last remaining survivor of the deadly Japanese bombing
World War II veterans are honored during a ceremony on the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, at the American Air Power Museum on December 7, 2022
Conter was one of the fortunate 334 individuals who survived from the USS Arizona
Lou Conter was born in 1921 in Ojibwa, Wisconsin. He enlisted in the Navy in 1931 in Denver, Colorado and completed basic training in San Diego, California.
He reported to the USS Arizona in 1940 with the rank of Quartermaster, Third Class. He was on watch the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the Arizona Final Salute.
He was on the quarterdeck station between the ships third turret and main deck when the attack occurred. Conter was knocked forward to the deck as others were blown off the ship completely when the first blow hit.
He and his other sailors began helping the wounded men, keeping them from jumping over the side into the fiery and shark infested waters, as he was knee deep in water. Conter then went into a lifeboat and rowed to shore.
After the attack, Lou helped recover bodies and put out fires around the area.
After Pearl Harbor, Conter joined flight school, which he said helped distract him from thinking about the tragedy he had witnessed during the war.
In November 1942, he received his pilot wings and was part of the team that flew Black Cat aircraft overnight doing bomb runs in the South Pacific. He was shot down twice, but managed to use a lifeboat to get to shore both times.
Following World War II, Conter returned to California and joined the reserves, and then served in the Korean War in the early 1950’s.
In 1967, Conter retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander and pursued a career as a real estate developer in California, where he still resides today.
Over the years, the number of USS Arizona survivors dwindled, and Conter recalls the group gatherings they used to have. From around 30 survivors, the group size gradually decreased to 13, then to 5, and now Conter is the sole survivor.
The third to last remaining USS Arizona crew members who survived the attack, Donald Stratton, died in 2020, leaving only Ken Potts and Lou Conter.
Although Conter did not know Ken Potts during their time on the USS Arizona, they became close friends later in life. Conter regularly checked in with Potts, ensuring he was doing well and eating properly.
Now that Potts has passed away, Conter plans to fulfill his new mission of returning to Pearl Harbor for the annual remembrance event in December.
Due to health reasons, Conter has been unable to attend the remembrance for the past four years. However, Conter would like to make the journey one last time this year, according to the WSJ.
‘Now I’m the only one still living,’ he said. ‘I’d like to go once more.’
Conter described the harrowing experience of guiding the injured men to shore in his 2021 book ‘The Lou Conter Story’
Guests join a Pearl Harbor 80th Anniversary Commemoration at the World War II Memorial December 7, 2021 in Washington, DC
Conter plans to fulfill his new mission of returning to Pearl Harbor for the annual remembrance event in December
Battleships West Virginia and Tennessee burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7th December 1941
The bombing of the USS Arizona was the deadliest event of the Pearl Harbor attacks, claiming the lives of 1,117 people out of the total 2,403 casualties
When the USS Arizona sunk during the bombings, Conter bravely rescued his fellow crewmates from the burning ship
Despite helping he crewmates to safety on that day 82 years ago, Conter refuses to be called a hero
Donald Stratton, 97, died at his Colorado Springs home in his sleep Saturday with his family in attendance. He is shown in a recent photograph
Stratton in a recent photograph with his wife, Velma. They had four children and 13 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Velma is 70
In this July 21, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump listens to USS Arizona survivor Donald Stratton, right, during a meeting with survivors of the attack on USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
Ken Potts, one of last 2 USS Arizona survivors, died in April at 102
Stratton 19 when the attack on the Arizona happened. He’d enlisted just a year earlier, in 1940
Stratton with Lou Conter, John Anderson and Lauren Bruner in 2014. Anderson (second from right) died in 2015 and Bruner (far right) died in September 2019. Now, Conter (second from left) is the sole survivor
Stratton was one of 1,177 crew on-board the USS Arizona when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He had been on an outdoor deck when the bombs began, turning the ship into an inferno
THE USS ARIZONA, PEARL HARBOR AND THE ATTACK THAT SENT AMERICA TO WAR
On December 7, 1941, Japanese dive bombers descended on Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack that devastated the Navy and sent the US into World War II.
It was just before 8am when hundreds of Japanese planes rushed the harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Twenty Navy ships had gathered there and there were hundreds of Air Force planes at nearby bases.
In total, 2,400 soldiers, sailors and civilians were killed in the attack.
An image from the attack. Hundreds of Japanese planes dropped bombs on the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet in the attack, triggering a series of explosions which claimed thousands of lives
The USS Arizona was one of the worst hit.
Of the some 1,500 on-board, only 335 escaped with their lives. Around 900 could not be recovered from the wreckage and their remains are still interred on the ship.
It has been preserved as a memorial site and submerged in around 40ft of water. Around 10 minutes into the attack, an enormous, 1,800lb bomb was dropped on the Arizona.
It smashed through the deck and landed in its forward ammunition magazine which triggered an unthinkable explosion. With more than 1,000 trapped inside, the ship sank.
Survivors’ stories of escape and of the horror they saw on-board are similar to Stratton’s.
Stratton and five other men huddled in a water tower and would have died along with the others had Joe George not thrown them a rope from the nearby Vesta ship.
George had been in the brig the night before the attack and was let out early.
All of the ships – USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada – the Navy’s Pacific fleet – sustained damage.
Only the Arizona and the Utah could not be recovered.
The USS Arizona Memorial is shown during a ceremony to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Stratton stands in front of the remembrance shrine at Pearl Harbor in December during the 73rd Memorial Service in 2017
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