In 2018, the Pearl Harbor anniversary commemoration took place with something missing. It was the first year that no survivors of the USS Arizona (BB-39) attended the Oahu ceremony. All well into their 90s, the survivors weren’t physically able to cross the Pacific to join in the remembrance of the men with whom they served on December 7, 1941. 2019 proved to be different, however, as one of the three remaining survivors was able to make the trip from Sacramento, CA to attend the event. Lou Conter returns to Pearl Harbor to take part in the ceremony in which his friend and former USS Arizona shipmate is to be interred within the wreckage of the sunken battleship.
Lou Conter Returns to Pearl Harbor
Lou Conter, 98, arrived in Honolulu on December 3 with nearly 50 family and friends joining him. The previous year, health issues and doctor’s orders prevented him from making the flight. This year, he was adamant that the lapse was a rare occurrence. “I’ll come out every year I can until I’m gone,” he said upon his arrival.
When Conter arrived, he was met by a red carpet and a surprise greeting. Pearl Harbor sailors lined two long rows and welcomed the Pearl Harbor survivor in a gesture that’s typically reserved for high-ranking officials. Conter retired from the US Navy as a lieutenant commander. The warm welcome was organized by Hawaiian Airlines employee and retired Navy Chief, Michael Church. “It’s just the right thing to do,” is how Church explained his reasoning for the celebratory welcome.
A Somber Mission
Lou Conter returns to Pearl Harbor not only to join in the commemoration with other Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors. He comes to bury a friend. On September 10, 2019, fellow USS Arizona survivor and friend Lauren Bruner passed away. Bruner will be the last of the Arizona’s crew to be interred on board the vessel, which serves as a graveyard to so many of her sailors. “We have to bury Lauren Bruner on Saturday, so [I] had to come back,” Conter explained.
Other Pearl Survivors Expected
Lou Conter isn’t the only Pearl Harbor survivor making a return to Oahu for the Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies. Former USS Tennessee (BB-43) sailor Tom Berg also arrived to pay his respects to the 2,403 Americans who were killed in the Japanese assault. Stuart Hedley, a survivor of the USS West Virginia (BB-48), and Don Long, who was stationed at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, were also expected to arrive. Ira J. Schab, the last surviving band-member from USS Dobbin (AD-3), and Jack Holder also plan to participate in the commemoration ceremony on December 7, 2019.
Lou Conter is sure to be the center of attention for many, and will have a full schedule leading up to the 78th anniversary of the attack. Later in the evening, he plans on attending a wake for Lauren Bruner being held at Smith’s Union Bar, the favorite hangout for the men of Arizona to which Bruner returned every time he visited Honolulu.
Don Stratton and Ken Potts join Conter as the last living USS Arizona survivors. Owing to declining health, they will not be attending the commemoration ceremony on Oahu.