GRASS VALLEY, Calif.

Lou Conter is telling the story of the night his patrol bomber was shot down seven miles off the coast of New Guinea, dumping the seaplane's 10-man crew into the Pacific Ocean.

The crew was not alone in the water.

"We had 10 or 12 sharks around us all the time," Conter says. "I told the men, 'If a shark comes close, hit it in the nose with your fist as hard as you can.'"

The men stayed afloat until another plane saw the burning wreckage and tossed out a life raft. The exhausted crew dragged ashore an hour later and hid in the jungle, fearful they would be captured by Japanese soldiers. The next night, an American PT boat retrieved all 10 men.

As Conter told it, the story wasn't about punching sharks, or skulking in the jungle or chasing shadows to the waiting rescue boat. Conter was talking about survival, about coming back alive.

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