Lou Conter, World War II veterans honored at Pearl Harbor commemoration | TheUnion.com

Lou Conter, World War II veterans honored at Pearl Harbor commemoration


WHAT: Pearl Harbor Day memorial

WHO: American Legion Frank Gallino Post 130

WHEN: Noon, Saturday

WHERE: Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building, 255 S. Auburn St., Grass Valley

INFO: http://www.gvlegionpost130.org

Louis A. Conter, 98, is a survivor.

Seventy-eight years ago today, when the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, Conter was a Navy quartermaster on the USS Arizona, which scrambled to leave the dock and defend the nation before taking a bomb to the forward side of the ship.

The bomb ignited a million pounds of gunpowder meant for the ship’s turrets, completely blowing up the front side of the Arizona.

Of the 1,512 Navy crew members aboard the USS Arizona at the time of the attack, 1,177 died that day. Today, Conter is one of only three surviving members who have lived to tell the tale and pass on the memory of the service members who gave their lives that day.

“ … I hope Americans today remember them. We (who were there) will never forget it; it’s in our minds all the time.”— Lou ConterUSS Arizona survivor, on his shipmates killed at Pearl Harbor

“There was so much damage all around, but that was because all the battleships were in port,” Conter said. “If we had been out in the water at the time, it would have been the biggest battle in the war’s history and it would have saved us some time winning the war, too.”

Since the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 2011, Conter has made it his mission to journey to Honolulu for the commemoration ceremony every year that he’s healthy enough to travel, and even some years when he wasn’t. There the remains of fellow USS Arizona service members are kept and the tomb is opened each year on Dec. 7 to honor the fallen veterans.

This year’s trek will hold even more meaning for Conter, as he will attend the funeral of friend and fellow USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, who will have his remains interred on the battleship.

“He was our senior man, now there’s only three of us left,” Conter said. “And the youngest is 97, so we don’t have many years left.”

In honor

Conter once planned to have his remains honored at the sunken Arizona memorial as well, but now has other ideas.

“About a year ago I decided I might as well be buried right next to my wife up here,” Conter said. “I was with her over 50 years and I was only on the Arizona two and a half before it blew up.”

Conter said it’s important for him to make the effort each year to honor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives that day and in the war that followed, although it’s never easy for him to remember the devastation of the attack. He hopes their sacrifices will live on with Americans for generations, and fears the nation might be forgetting about them, a privilege not afforded to those who have served.

“It’s a very hard thing to stand there on that platform and look at all the shipmates that got killed there in just seven minutes,” Conter said. “But we have to remember and I hope Americans today remember them. We (who were there) will never forget it, it’s in our minds all the time.”

When he arrived in Hawaii this week, Conter and his family were treated to a hero’s welcome, complete with honors from the Army National Guard captain and cabin crew on his flight and a red carpet to guide his wheelchair.

Pete Vasilakos, 2nd Vice Commander of the American Legion Frank Gallino Post 130, hopes the legion can provide a similar honor to veterans locally when they have their Pearl Harbor Day memorial at noon today in the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building. The service will be followed by a fundraiser dance at 6 p.m. today in the same building.

“You look back at young guys (like Conter) that hardly looked like they ever shaved when they served,” Vasilakos said. “Did anyone ever hug them and say ‘thank you?’”

Vasilakos said when he first met Conter a decade ago he was impressed by his vitality and wants the commemoration service to do justice in honoring veterans like him.

“We have a saying in the legion: Some gave all, all gave some,” Vasilakos said, “You have to keep the momentum up and honor those that have gave all they had for the country. We can’t ever forget that.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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