USS Arizona veteran remembers "date which will live in infamy"

- The battleship named after the 48th state sunk on December 7, 1941, during the attack on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor. Today, there are just five people who survived that day, who are still alive.

One of them is Navy Lieutenant Commander Louis Conter.

"The bow came about 30-40 feet out of the water and settled straight back down, and that's where she is sitting today in the mud, right where she went down," said Conter. He was a Quartermaster Third Class back in 1941.

"I was on the quarterdeck in the back," recounted Conter.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese bomb penetrated five decks of the USS Arizona, exploding its forward powder magazine.

"It blew up in there, and exploded a million pounds of powder," said Conter.

Conter was just 20 years old that day, and one of only 335 sailors who escaped the burning ship.

1,177 officers and men were killed on that day.

"She was a great ship," said Conter. "There wasn't one person who sat above another who didn't do a fantastic job at what they were supposed to do."

Conter helped save more than a dozen sailors that day.

"We started bringing the guys out on fire, laying them on the deck, and getting them to the hospital," said Conter, who went on to say it was a traumatic experience he will never forget.

"We would pick them up, the skin would come off in our hands, and we had to reach underneath and lift them up like that," said Conter. "It wasn't easy."

The USS Arizona was out of the war, but Conter wasn't. He later earned his Navy wings, and was part of the Navy's first Black Cat squadron. The Black Cats were Catalina flying boats converted into night bombers and torpedo planes.

"We were the only ones at night doing any work," said Conter. "We sunk over 80,000 tons of Japanese warships."

Conter also helped pull off one of the greatest rescue missions of the War, when his Black Cat squadron rescued Australian coast watchers, before the Japanese closed in.

"Three days, we rescued 219 Australian coast watchers from tribes a hundred miles up the river and didn't lose a person," recounted Conter.

Nowadays, Conter isn't in combat. He was recently at a fundraiser in Carefree, sharing the spotlight with a Golden Retriever puppy. The Warrior Canine Connection is training the dog to help some lucky U.S. veteran cope with life back home.

In honor of the USS Arizona survivor, they named the puppy Lou, after Conter.

In another room at the event, Conter was taken back in time, thanks to 3D headset technology. He was given a virtual tour of his old ship, even underwater, to see what's left of the USS Arizona today. This happened, thanks to technology Flagstaff resident Pete Kelsey helped develop, when he and others dove on the wreck just before the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"It was high time that somebody took a close look at the ship and the memorial buildings," said Kelsey.

Conter, meanwhile, dove on the ship 76 years ago, in a search for survivors.

"We dove on the ship after it went down," said Conter. "Ten days. Called it off because we were getting our air hoses caught on the hatches. Just couldn't get in there anymore."

For those who worked on the video, watching Conter "dive" on the USS Arizona once more was a thrill. It was also a thrill for the World War II vet, because the video will help future generations remember the ship, as well as her crew.

Besides his service in World War II, Conter also flew Navy bombers during the Korean Conflict, and later ran the Navy's first Survival and Evasion School.

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