Last Surviving Crew Member of the USS Arizona (BB-39) Dead At 102

Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images

The last survivor of the sinking of the USS Arizona (BB-39) on December 7, 1941, has died. Lou Conter, 102, was a US Navy sailor assigned to the battleship when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, the event that official launched the United States into the Second World War.

USS Arizona (BB-39) shrouded in smoke
USS Arizona (BB-39) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941. (Photo Credit: Pictures from History / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Conter passed away on April 1, 2024, at his home in Grass Valley, California. According to his daughter, Louann Daley, the World War II veteran’s death was the result of congestive heart failure. She added that she and her brothers, Jeff and James, were by his side. A fourth sibling, Tony, wasn’t present.

Daley explained that Conter had been in hospice care since a 10-day hospital stay in February, noting that her father had been getting noticeably weaker in recent months. While funeral plans are still in the works, the family’s desire is to bury the veteran next to his wife, Val, in Grass Valley. He will be laid to rest with full military honors.

“I’m glad he’s at peace,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m glad he’d didn’t suffer. I know when he transitioned over, he had so many people there waiting for him – his wife Val, who he loved dearly.”

Portrait of Lou Conter looking to the side
Lou Conter awaiting the start of a memorial service marking the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl, 2015. (Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images)

Enlisting in the Navy when he was just 18 years old, Conter frequently recalled his early days in the military. After completing boot camp, he was assigned to Arizona. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Conter, then a quartermaster, was on the main deck of the battleship.

“As soon as they came in, we knew what was happening,” Conter told KCRA 3 in 2023. “We knew for six months we were training hard for fighting the Japanese at war. They were dive bombing, and they were right down the ship’s edge. We didn’t have time to look up and see what was coming. They were already right down at the water’s edge.”

According to the veteran, one bomb broke through the battleship’s decks, detonating one million pounds of gunpowder that was being stored below and causing an explosion that lifted the vessel 30-40 feet into the air. Before he knew it, Arizona was on fire.

Managing to escape injury, Conter spent the aftermath of the assault putting out fires, recovering the bodies of his comrades and tending to the wounded, many of whom were suffering from severe burns and blindness. He and the other sailors who’d survived did this until they were assured by their senior officer that everyone who was still alive had been rescued.

Of those aboard Arizona, just 335 survived. A devastating 1,177 crewmen lost their lives.

Wreck of the USS Arizona (BB-39) poking out of the water
USS Arizona (BB-39) following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941. (Photo Credit: Buyenlarge / Getty Images)

Following the events at Pearl Harbor, Conter attended flight school and earned his wings. Certified to pilot the Consolidated PBY Catlina, he spent the remainder of the conflict with the first of its kind “Black Cats” squadron in the Pacific Theater, participating in 200 combat missions. Despite being shot down on occasion, he somehow managed to always survive.

Conter continued to serve with the Navy after World War II, becoming the military branch’s first survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) officer. Until his retirement in 1967 as a lieutenant commander, he taught other Navy pilots and airmen what to do in the event they were downed and taken prisoner in Vietnam.

Despite being retired, Conter remained active in the veteran community and was a regular face at Pearl Harbor memorials. Even when his health prevented him from attending in person, he always made sure to record a video message, to remind attendees of his dedication to his fallen crewmen.

In 2022, Conter received the National WWII Museum’s Silver Service Medallion for his dedicated military service.

Lou Conter standing in his US Navy uniform
Lou Conter attending the 76th commemoration event of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 2017. (Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak / Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Hawaii / DVIDS / Public Domain)

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Following the passing of Ken Potts in April 2023, Conter became the last survivor of Arizona. With his death, there are now only 19 survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor still alive.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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