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Honoring Lt. Cmdr. (Retired) Lou Conter, U.S. Navy

by | Apr 2, 2024

Retired Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter at the December 7th Ceremony in Pearl Harbor in 2013.

Monday afternoon, as our News of Davidson weekly editorial board meeting wrapped up, I glanced at my iPhone and saw a post that briefly took my breath away.

Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Lou Conter had passed away.

I first met Lou and his wife Val in 2001 in Pearl Harbor. It was the afternoon of December 7, and I was taking the time to check on various venues where Pearl Harbor survivors were gathering following the morning’s activities. I met them in Lockwood Hall, one of the historic facilities on the Naval Base.

I have to admit, when I had seen Lou at event over the previous 24+ hours, I had thought that he looked too young to be a Pearl Harbor Survivor. Lou looked much younger than any of his peers. He looked like he was in his sixties, not eighties.

But he was, and his story was fascinating. He was an enlisted sailor on December 7, 1941, and went on to a very full career in the U.S. Navy. He became an enlisted Navy pilot and flew countless missions in the Pacific later in the war. Most notably, he was one of several PBY (a patrol aircraft) pilots credited with saving hundreds of Australian Coast Watchers who were behind enemy lines.

He served aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard during the Korean War, and was subsequently asked to take on an incredibly unique mission for the U.S. Navy. He was sent to Fort Bragg to work with Special Operations forces, including some of the original Green Berets.

LCDR (Ret) Lou Conter at the World War II Memorial in 2012.

Following his training with the Army, Lou became the U.S. Navy’s first SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) Officer. He went on to establish the Navy’s survival schools. Many Prisoners of War during Vietnam credited that training with their survival.

Lou retired from the Navy in 1967 as a Lieutenant Commander and lived in California for the rest of his life.

We stayed in touch over the years. There were a few phone calls, and several letters. I still remember getting a letter from him in 2012. I paused before opening it because I was afraid it was news about his wife Val. She had been sick, and I feared the worse. So, I sat down before opening the letter, and was soon relieved to read that she was doing better. More importantly, Lou was coming to Washington, DC.

He was going to be traveling as part of an “Honor Flight,” and he wanted to know if I could meet him and travel to the various memorials with him.

I was thrilled to have that honor. I met him at the World War II Memorial. All of the veterans in Lou’s Honor Flight were wearing yellow t-shirts with “Honor Flight Northern California” on the front, and family members and escorts wore orange shirts.

Former Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole with LCDR Conter at the WWII Memorial in 2012.

Lou and I walked around the WWII Memorial, getting photos at several locations. As was often the case, Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole were at the Memorial to greet this group of Veterans. I spoke with the Doles and asked them if we could get a group photo, and they agreed. I made sure to introduce Lou to them in the process.

Following the WWII Memorial, we traveled to Arlington National Cemetery. It was an incredibly moving experience to attend the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. After that ceremony, he and I walked over to the grave of Audie Murphy.

The following day, I made the trip out to the hotel where his group was staying. I had asked Lou for a favor and he had graciously offered to support my request.

I had a USS Arizona poster, and already had signatures of fourteen USS Arizona Survivors. I still can’t explain why I didn’t have Lou’s, but I was glad to have the chance to remedy the situation.

We met in a conference room off the hotel lobby. I think the Honor Flight had the entire hotel booked, as there was a sea of yellow t-shirts all around us.

Lou Conter’s signature on my USS Arizona print.

I took the print out of the frame, and asked Lou to use a black Sharpie as his fellow USS Arizona shipmates had used years before. He signed “L. Conter” and added “QM 3/C 12/7/41 USS Arizona.” The QM 3/C reflects his rank and Navy rating at the time. He was a Quartermaster Petty Officer Third Class.

It was during that visit that I asked Lou if I could record a couple of questions. He obliged that request too. You can watch my conversation with Lou at this link.

In 2013, I was back in Hawaii. Two days after getting married, Heather and I were in Pearl Harbor for the seventy-second commemoration ceremony. Lou and Val were there, too, seated on the front row.

It would be the last opportunity I had to see Lou in person. Val passed away in early 2016. They had been married for forty-nine years.

That poster is hanging on the wall, over my shoulder, as I type these words. Rest in Peace Lou, thank you for your service to our nation.

You can view an album of photos and the video here.





Jane Campbell

Jane Campbell, U.S. Navy, Capt. ret., grew up in a military family and lived around the globe before graduating from Davidson College with a degree in Political Science. During a 25-year career in the Navy, she served aboard three different ships and held a variety of shore-based assignments. She was stationed on the East and West coasts, as well as overseas. She had tours at the Pentagon and the White House, and volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan. She moved to Davidson in late 2014 and has become involved in a variety of volunteer activities with college, church, and community. She serves as a photographer and Sports Editor for News of Davidson.

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