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Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Hower, a native of California and an AV-8B Harrier II jet pilot with Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223, poses for a photo holding his great-uncle Louis A. Conter's naval aviator wing insignia at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, April 18, 2024. Conter was the last known survivor of the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and passed away April 1, 2024. Hower flew U.S. flags and Conter's naval aviator wing insignia during the flight. Conter served in the U.S. Navy from 1939 to 1967. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa

Legacy of service: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Hower honors great-uncle Louis A. Conter, last known survivor of the USS Arizona

30 Apr 2024 | 2nd Lt. John Graham 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Hower, an AV-8B Harrier II pilot with Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), conducted a flight in honor of his great-uncle, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Louis Conter, at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, April 18, 2024.

Conter was the last known living survivor of the battleship USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He passed away April 1, 2024, at age 102, in Grass Valley, California.

“Growing up, I was blessed with the guidance of my great-uncle ‘Lou,’ who stepped into the grandfather role for me, sharing tales of his Navy days, wartime aviation exploits, and the pivotal morning of Dec. 7, 1941,” said Hower. “His presence epitomized strength, dedication, and modesty, shaping my ideals of manhood.”

These stories inspired Hower, a native of San Diego, to pursue naval aviation. After receiving his commission and following graduation from The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Hower reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, to begin flight training in April 2017. He then underwent primary naval aviation training aboard NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. He was selected for jet training and distinguished himself at primary naval aviation training with inclusion on the Commodore’s List, which is reserved for exceptional student naval aviators. Following intermediate and advanced jet training aboard NAS Meridian, Mississippi, Hower received his naval aviator wings of gold May 1, 2020, earning his status as a naval aviator and marking another significant event in honoring Conter’s legacy. That same year, Conter gifted his own naval aviator wing insignia to Hower, which he earned in 1942, representing an immense honor and one of Hower’s proudest moments.

“Uncle Lou’s valor as a naval aviator in World War II, especially after the Pearl Harbor attack, earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, a testament to his heroism,” said Hower. “So, when I earned my wings of gold from the Marine Corps in May of 2020, it was a profound honor that he chose to pass on his own wings that he earned in 1942 to me.”

Conter enlisted in the U.S. Navy in November 1939. Following boot camp in San Diego, he reported to his first ship, battleship USS Arizona, as an apprentice seaman. He was selected for the enlisted pilot training program before the fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941. During the attack, Conter rescued men from the flames, assisted in fighting fires, and evacuated the wounded. After the attack, he was assigned duty as a diver to go into the sunken ship to retrieve remains of the deceased until it was deemed too dangerous to continue.

Conter reported to Pensacola in January 1942 and earned his wings that November. He reported to Patrol Squadron 11 as a PBY-5 Catalina flying boat patrol bomber pilot. Conter would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, for valor, for a series of dangerous below-treetop level flights in New Guinea to covertly rescue Australian Coastwatchers that were trapped by Japanese forces. Conter received a battlefield commission in November 1943. He continued on to fly dozens of missions in World War II and the Korean War, was instrumental in establishing the Navy’s first Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape course, and retired as a lieutenant commander in December 1967 after 28 years of service.

On the morning of April 18, Hower climbed into the cockpit of an AV-8B Harrier II with the naval aviator wings that Conter gifted him in 2020, along with the U.S. flag that would be placed on Conter’s casket. After conducting their preflight checks, Hower and Capt. Herberth Claros, a native of Georgia and an AV-8B Harrier II pilot with VMA-231, took off from MCAS Cherry Point for their flight honoring Conter and returned to MCAS Cherry Point.

“Even though he passed away on April 1, there is one final tribute I could offer him: his last naval aviation flight,” said Hower. “Piloting a Harrier that carried the flag that will be draped on the casket of my uncle Lou was a moment of profound reverence and surrealism for my family and me.”

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing