Drive-by birthday salute: World War II veteran and USS Arizona survivor Louis Conter turns 99 (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY) | TheUnion.com
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Drive-by birthday salute: World War II veteran and USS Arizona survivor Louis Conter turns 99 (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

Grass Valley’s World War II hero and USS Arizona survivor, retired Lt. Cmdr. Lou A. Conter, was celebrated Saturday with a drive-by salute for his birthday.

Conter turned 99 on Sunday, and won’t soon forget the procession of law enforcement, firefighter, and community members’ vehicles that took part in his surprise birthday tribute.

“I didn’t know anything about it, my God,” Conter said following the drive-by celebration. “I was just sitting there watching TV, getting ready for going to Jack and Linda’s for a barbecue this afternoon, just relaxing. I walked out here, and what the hell is going on?”

Representatives from nearly every local fire and law enforcement agency, including State Parks and the Forest Service, made their way in front of Conter’s home in Grass Valley’s Eskaton Village at 10:30 a.m. Many used their loudspeakers to wish Conter a happy birthday and thank him for his service.

Local Boy Scout troops and the Roamin Angels Car Club also cruised by while Conter’s family joined him on the sidewalk to watch and wave at the procession of cars.

Nevada County Supervisor Ed Scofield presented a plaque memorializing the occasion.

Following the procession, Conter spoke about missing the Pearl Harbor Memorial this year, but said he’s going to be back for the memorial in 2021.

“Ken Potts is our only other survivor from the Arizona,” Conter said. “I talked to him a couple of weeks ago. He’s in Utah, He and his wife bought that house in ’47 when they got out of the service. And they’re still living there.

“He was 99 on April 15. He’s five months older than I am,” Conter said of Potts. “There’s just the two of us left.”

Conter was on board the USS Arizona when a Japanese armor-piercing bomb hit 1 million pounds of gunpowder stored in the hull of the ship on Dec. 7, 1941. He helped rescue crewmen following the explosion and dove into the wreckage to recover bodies in the days after.

A total of 1,177 sailors died as a result of the bombing of the USS Arizona.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Conter became a VP-11 Black Cat pilot and was responsible for helping rescue over 200 Australian Coastwatchers stranded in Northern New Guinea.

Conter now spends much of his time at his home in Eskaton Village with friends and family always close by.

“It surprised me,” Conter said of Saturday’s drive-by birthday salute.

“I don’t know how the CHP, and the sheriff’s, and the fire engines, everybody got all together to combine here,” Conter said. “I don’t know who organized it, but it was great.”

Conter would later find out that his daughter Louann Daley, and California Highway Patrol Commander George Steffenson, played a big hand in coordinating the efforts.

Following the procession, Conter then awarded Steffenson and CHP Officer Mike Steele with challenge coins.

“I didn’t figure I’d have a 99th birthday like this,” Conter said.

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez email, efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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