DANIEL VAUGHAN: Lou Conter (1921 - 2024) - The Last Light Of The Greatest Generation

 April 3, 2024

On December 7, 1941, United States history was changed forever with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The worst hit ship in that attack was the USS Arizona, where 1,102 sailors and Marines lost their lives that day. That was nearly half of the 2,403 casualties that day in one ship. There were 334 survivors from the Arizona that day, but we just lost the last survivor: Lou Conter, who passed away this week at the age of 102.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Conter last year after he turned 101 years old. After surviving the attack, Conter tried rescuing others from the flaming wrecked of the Arizona. "As we guided these men to safety, more often than not, their burned skin would come off on our hands."

A month after Pear Harbor, he took a different track and went to flight school while working 12-14-hour shifts to "keep his mind off the death and destruction he saw on the USS Arizona." He said it "helped out a lot to not think about it."

His brushes with death did not end there. "He got his pilot wings in November 1942, he said, and was part of a team that flew Black Cat aircraft overnight doing bomb runs in the South Pacific. He said he was shot down twice, once in September 1943 and a second time three months later. Both times, he used a lifeboat to get to shore."

He ended up serving again when he entered the Korean War. He retired from the military as a lieutenant commander and lived in California as a real estate developer.

In the WSJ interview, Conter discussed returning to the USS Arizona for one more memorial service. According to reports, that didn't happen this past December—however, his grand-nephew, Marine Corps Capt. Daniel Hower gave the keynote address for the event.

Hower told the crowd, "Whenever my Uncle Lou or any other veteran of World War II is recognized or thanked for their service, they humbly answer: 'We just did what we had to do." He thanked the other survivors of Pearl Harbor there, "The legacy that you all built remains unmatched and a lesson that keeps on teaching."

There are other survivors of the Pearl Harbor attacks, but they, too, are passing away. Conter is just the last of the USS Arizona survivors. The memorial in the ocean to the USS Arizona is now the only standing reminder of the brave men that day. We also have the memoirs men like Conter wrote of their time, which are still available on Amazon.

Memorials, monuments, and parks we set up to honor those who sacrificed everything are vital to the national memory. In time, we all pass away, but we must memorize the lives of those who gave everything and exemplified the very best this country has ever offered. In times when monuments are debated and torn down, heroes like Lou Conter provide vital connections to the past we must remember.

We do it for several reasons, but two stand out. First, we do it as a way of saying thanks to them for their sacrifices. Basic decency demands we acknowledge their sacrifice. People owe their family lineages to the bravery of Lou Conter. A country that refuses to pay tribute to its heroes in this respect cannot stand long because we'll see fewer of those types arise when we need them.

Second, and equally important, we need these memorials to teach the young and old the morals, virtues, and characteristics we deem great. Lou Conter wasn't a celebrity, an influencer, or selling something. He was a man thrust into an impossible situation, watching his friends and coworkers die around him, and he did the first thing he could think of: save lives.

And he didn't stop there. He was willing to continue the fight and get shot down twice. Words cannot do justice to the level of bravery this took. He, like many in his generation, downplayed the acts here. But all you have to do is glance at your phone and see what passes for bravery on a given day on social media, then look at Lou Conter's life. You'll realize that his kind of bravery does not exist in abundance.

A generation of Lou Conter's arrived when they were most needed. They answered the call, many paying with their lives. That Lou Conter survived and lived as long as he did is a testament to that. His life was a living memorial to the bravery it took to fight and win that war and continue forward.

Thank you, Lou Conter, for everything you have done and given to this country. We will forever be in your debt. You earned your rest. I sincerely hope we never need men like that to step forward and do what they did again. But if we do, I hope we get more Lou Conter's or people trying to emulate him.

May his memory be a blessing for eternity.

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