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Grass Valley’s WWII USS Arizona survivor unable to make trip this year (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

It was Sept. 30, 1943 and WWII Veteran and USS Arizona survivor Louis A. Conter’s plane had just been shot down over enemy waters while piloting a rescue mission in New Guinea.

“Don’t panic,” Conter told his fellow airmen as they tread water in shark infested ocean. “If you panic you’re dead.”

Conter, 97, was no stranger to dangerous situations.

Two years prior Conter was a Navy seaman assigned to the USS Arizona on that fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, thrusting the U.S. into WWII.

Conter was cleared to leave for Navy Airman training before the attack on Pearl Harbor, orders which were eventually fulfilled after a month of diving and body recovery missions to the sunken USS Arizona.

Conter’s flight schooling included extensive survival skills training, which would prove valuable when shot down off the coast of New Guinea where six to eight sharks encroached upon them.

“If a shark comes hit ’em in the nose as hard as you can,” Conter said to his fellow service men. “No where else but in the nose.”

“The first shark that came up, I hit ’em in the nose, then they believed me,” Conter said. “That was the best thing they had learned, they saw me do it. When they saw it worked then they did it. That was the best survival they had in the tiger pit in the ocean.”

Conter recalled these war stories and many more while watching the funeral of President George Bush from his home on Eskaton Circle in Grass Valley.

“He was the only President to show up to a Pearl Harbor ceremony,” Conter said as he showed off a signed portrait of him and President Bush taken during that ceremony.

Today marks the first time in over 25 years that Conter won’t be making the trip to Pearl Harbor for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

“Doctor’s orders,” Conter said, “But I’ll be going back next year.”

There are 5 remaining survivors of the USS Arizona.

This is also the first year that no survivors of the Arizona will be in attendance at today’s ceremony.

Conter plans to watch today’s Pearl Harbor ceremony from home surrounded by his family.

“We’re lucky,” Conter’s son Jim Conter said of his father. “Any dad is their kids’ hero. But ours is an American hero.”

For more from The Union’s interview with Conter, including a video, visit http://www.theunion.com.

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

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