Louis A Conter – Witness to Infamy
On December 7, 1941, Louis Anthony Conter was on board the USS Arizona moored along Battleship Row adjacent to Ford Island as the first Japanese airplanes appeared over the hill from Kaneohe. General Quarters sounded on the USS Arizona and everyone made their way to their battle stations. As a Quartermaster Third Class, Mr. Conter’s battle station was on the bridge to steer the ship and he was there. After the bombs from the Japanese planes started falling, the decision was made to separate the USS Arizona from the repair ship Vestal and he was assigned this task by the ship’s commander. At ten minutes after eight, an armor-piercing bomb penetrated five decks and exploded in the turret two handling room and detonated one million pounds of black powder. That explosion and subsequent fire killed 1,177 sailors on the ship and left the survivors with scars that would not be allowed to heal for almost four years. The men who came of age that day would fight across the Pacific until Japan ultimately surrendered on August 15, 1945.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, QM3c Louis Conter would help with the search for survivors within the confines of the ship. Just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Conter received orders that would transfer him to Pensacola Naval Air Station for pilot training. With the attack, his orders were destroyed with the USS Arizona and it took some time before his orders were updated. In November 1942, he earned his wings and was assigned to a new squadron made up entirely of the PBY Catalina Flying Boat. The airplanes of the VP-11 Black Cat Squadron were painted flat black and wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping.
During the war, Mr. Conter was shot down and helped the men of his airplane survive the shark-infested waters of the South Pacific by telling them to punch the sharks in the nose as they slowly tread water. Another PBY saw their plight and dropped them a life raft which they paddled to shore and awaited rescue which occurred about 24 hours later. During another mission, Mr. Conter and his squadron rescued 219 Australian Coastwatchers from behind Japanese lines along the Sepik River in New Guinea.
Mr. Conter served the United States Navy and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander before retiring in 1967 and working in real estate in California. In 1954, he created the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program which came out of the practical experience he received in the shark-infested and enemy-infested waters and islands of the South Pacific theater of World War II. His exploits during his time in the Navy deserve the epic treatments of Homer and Lord Alfred Tennyson and the thanks and recognition from a grateful nation.
My Father, Lt. Lyman W. Griswold was a co/pilot on one of the PBY Black Cats of VP-11 on the Sepik River Rescue mission to save the coastwatchers. An amazing fete I loved to hear him tell.