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Remembering Lou Conter: The last living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona, an "American hero"

Son of Lou Conter says father's legacy defined by military service, faith and family
Son of Lou Conter says father's legacy defined by military service, faith and family 04:07

GRASS VALLEY -- Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter was the last person alive who could give a firsthand account of his time aboard the U.S.S. Arizona battleship, which sank on December 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Lou was the sole remaining survivor of the ship. He passed peacefully in his sleep on April 1, 2024, at the age of 102 following congestive heart failure.

There were 335 Arizona crew members who escaped the flames and ocean water with their lives on the fateful day that would forever change world history, launching the United States into World War II.


Jim Conter, one of Lou's seven children, says he is proud to know his father was the last survivor of the battleship.

"He was a hero, an American hero," Jim said. "We just thank God for it. That's all he did. It's God's will."

Jim says his dad was a man defined by years of dedicated military service, faith and family.

In Lou's office at his Grass Valley home, the walls serve as a time capsule of sorts. Hanging over every inch of wall space is a collection of memorabilia from his military service, including a piece of the U.S.S. Arizona itself.

Lou would go on to visit Pearl Harbor many times over the years, attending and speaking at ceremonies honoring the survivors and remembering the fallen annually. The final time he was able to attend was in 2019.

"I'm here to pay respects to the 2,403 men killed that day, including 1,177 of my shipmates on the Arizona," Lou Conter previously said of the 2019 trip.

In Photos: Remembering Lou Conter

Lou enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939. He completed boot camp in San Diego and the Arizona was the first ship he reported to.

"He's told me before, December 7, 1941, was just one day in a four-year war. I'm more proud of what he did after," Jim said. 

Lou would go on to earn his wings, flying 200 combat missions including in the Korean War, and survived being shot down twice. 

"One of his great things was, never give up. Like when he was shot down the first time and they were waiting for another plane to pass and drop a life raft. They were in the water with sharks for 45 minutes, an hour, until they dropped the life raft," Jim said. 

Jim says his father would eventually advise three presidents after serving in intelligence roles for the Navy. He also developed survival training that is still used today for Navy pilots.

"He knew that his training he set up for these men saved lives," Jim said.

Lou was passionate about one message in particular: never forget.

"Remember Pearl Harbor, and that's probably one of the most important things," Jim said.

Lou Conter will be laid to rest on the morning of April 23 at Saint Patrick Parish. He will be buried in Grass Valley next to his wife of 45 years, Val, whom he loved dearly.

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