GRASS VALLEY -- For the first time, there were no survivors of the battleship Arizona present at the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremonies this year.
There are only five members of that exclusive club still living, Louis Conter is one of them.
Conter was a 20-year-old sailor on the USS Arizona which suffered the greatest casualties in the Pearl Harbor attack.
“It happened fast,” said Conter. “They were bombing like hell and strafing and we had our guns shootin.’”
Conter is one of only five surviving members of the crew and, on doctor’s orders, wasn’t able to attend the Pearl Harbor remembrance for the first time in 27 years.
But, he watched the ceremonies today with friends and holds the date in high esteem.
“You got to pay respect to the 2,403 who lost their lives that day especially the 1,770 of your shipmates on the Arizona,” Conter said.
It’s hard for him to forget especially after a bomb; “there were guys running out of the fire, they were burned pretty bad. You had to lay down on the deck even if you had to render them unconscious because if they jump over the side they’d burn to death because it was all fire anyway,” he said.
After the attack, he was part of the diving team that recovered bodies, but they couldn’t retrieve them all.
While Conter does fly the American flag outside his modest home in Grass Valley, for years he didn’t talk much to his family about his role on the Arizona.
Conter’s daughter, Louann Daley, says it wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of the attack that Conter became more open about his service, he’s revered in the family especially by his grand kids.
“My father was on the Arizona; the teachers would say ‘no way’ and so they’ll take photos in. So, he’s a hero in the family,” said Daley.
And now he’s a national hero as well. Conter sees his yearly attendance at Pearl Harbor anniversaries, as a duty. His study has a piece of the Arizona wreckage and other mementos; evidence of his good fortune.
“Somebody else topside is going to tell you when to go, so you have to be good in the meantime,” he said.
At 97 years old, Conter says he has a lot more visits ahead.
Conter went on to serve as a pilot who was shot down twice in the war and survived shark attacks before being rescued.
He also took part in a secret night time rescue of 250 Australian coast watchers during the war.