Last USS Arizona Sailor Who Survived Pearl Harbor Attack Passes Away at 102

Lou Conter, final survivor from USS Arizona attack at Pearl Harbor has passed away at 102
Kent Nishimura/Getty

Lou Conter, the last survivor of the battleship USS Arizona which was sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 102.

AP reports Conter passed away on Monday following congestive heart failure.  His daughter, Louann Daley, said she was beside him in his hospice care along with two of her brothers, James and Jeff.

The Japanese air assault claimed 1,177 sailors and Marines aboard the Arizona in the 1941 attack that kicked the lid off hell and propelled the United States into World War II.

The battleship’s fatalities account for nearly half of those lost on the day.

7th December 1941: The USS Arizona sinking in a cloud of smoke after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, Hawaii. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

7th December 1941: The USS Arizona sinking in a cloud of smoke after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, Hawaii. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

File/View of battleship row as explosions damage three American battleships during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. From left to right, the USS West Virginia, the USS Tennessee, and the USS Arizona. (US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

The AP report sets out Conter was a quartermaster, standing on the main deck of the Arizona as Japanese planes flew overhead at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7 that year.

Sailors were just beginning to hoist colors or raise the flag when the assault began with Conter later recalling  “how one bomb penetrated steel decks 13 minutes into the battle and set off more than one million pounds of gunpowder stored below.”

The explosion lifted the battleship 30 to 40 feet out of the water, he said during a 2008 oral history interview stored at the Library of Congress. Everything was on fire from the mainmast forward, he said.

“Guys were running out of the fire and trying to jump over the sides,” Conter said. “Oil all over the sea was burning.”

His autobiography The Lou Conter Story recounts how he joined other survivors in tending to the injured, many of them blinded and badly burned. The sailors only abandoned ship when their senior surviving officer was sure they had rescued all those still alive.

Conter himself was uninjured.

File/Lou Conter stands in the shrine room of the U.S.S. Arizona memorial at the 71st Annual Memorial Ceremony commemorating the WWII Attack On Pearl Harbor at the World War 2 Valor in the Pacific National Monument December 7, 2012 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

Conter went on to train as a pilot, earning his wings to fly PBY patrol bombers, which the Navy used to look for submarines and bomb enemy targets. He flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific with a “Black Cats” squadron, which conducted dive bombing at night in planes painted black.

In 1943, he and his crew where shot down in waters near New Guinea and had to avoid sharks. A sailor expressed doubt they would survive, to which Conter replied, “baloney.”

“Don’t ever panic in any situation. Survive is the first thing you tell them. Don’t panic or you’re dead,” he said.

Conter dedicated his life to service of his country. He was a military adviser to presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Pacific Historic Parks said on its Facebook page that Conter died at his home in Grass Valley, California, surrounded by family.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “less than 1% of the 16.1 million Americans who served during World War II are still with us today.”

They are dying at a rate of 131 each day and as most are in their 90s or older, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans says it is working to preserve their stories, UPI reports.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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