Last Survivor of USS Arizona says Fallen Crewmates Are the ‘Real Heroes’ of Pearl Harbor

The last known survivor of the USS Arizona said his fallen crewmates are the real heroes of that day


The last known survivor of the bombing of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor recalls dragging crewmates through the burning wreckage, but don't call him a hero.

“I consider the heroes the ones that gave their lives, that never came home to their families,” 101-year-old Lou Conter told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday. “They’re the real heroes.”

Conter was 20 when Japanese planes struck Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the attack on the USS Arizona was one of the deadliest ever - 1,117 sailors and Marines were killed, accounting for nearly half of the 2,403 death toll.

He was among the 334 assigned to the warship who survived. 

When former crewmate Ken Potts died in April at 102, Conter became the last survivor. 

The USS Arizona burned for two days before it sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. 

The USS Arizona sinks in a cloud ofd smoke after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Getty Images
December 7, 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)

Its wreckage remains underwater and can be viewed at the USS Arizona Memorial, which was erected over the ship.

Conter, who retired from the Navy in 1967 and lives in California, said he used to attend gatherings of USS Arizona survivors but saw their ranks get smaller and smaller over the years.

“Now I’m the only one still living,” Conter said.

He said he sometimes wonders why he survived the attack.

“God didn’t want you to go that time,” he said he told himself. “There’s a lot more for you to do for the country.”

In his book, "The Lou Conter Story," published in 2021, he wrote that in the immediate aftermath of the attack he and his fellow crew members "had no time to reflect, or pause and give thought to what had just happened. Rather, our job was to tend to the wounded."

He wrote that Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Fugua, who regained consciousness after being knocked out, ordered all "able-bodied survivors" to care for the wounded, which he said "were pouring out of the forward part of the ship."

"Men were emerging from the flames below; they were blinded, wounded, or literally burning. There were men who were fighting for their lives, fighting for survival. Some of them began jumping off the ship, but when they jumped into the water they were basically jumping into a pool of burning fuel and oil," he wrote.

As the men came through the flames, Conter said he and others would rush to help them get to safety.

"More often than not, their burned skin would come off in our hands. It was horrible ... absolutely horrible," he wrote.

A month after the attack, Conter said he went to flight school where the long days - up to 14 hours - kept his mind occupied and off the memories of the death on the USS Arizona.

“It helped out a lot to not think about it,” he told the Wall Street Journal. 

After getting his pilot wings in November 1942, Conter joined a team that flew Black Cat aircraft on bombing runs in the South Pacific.

He was shot down twice - once in September 1943 and another time that December, using a lifeboat to get to shore each time.

He said he didn't know Potts when they were stationed on the USS Arizona but they got to know each other years later and kept in touch talking on the phone every few weeks.

Conter said he would check on his health and whether he was eating.

 “Keep your spirits up,” Conter would tell him.

It's been four years since he last visited Pearl Harbor because his doctor warned him about taking the nine-hour flight from California to Hawaii, but he said he wants to make it his mission to return this December.

“I’d like to go once more,” Conter told the newspaper.

U.S.S. Arizona survivor Lou Conter looks on near the Arizona Remembrance Wall during a memorial service marking the 74th Anniversary of the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor December 07, 2015 on the island of Oahu at the Kilo Pier, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
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