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The U.S.S. Neosho

President George Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor
  

Presented on Dec. 7, 1991 at the 

50th Anniversary of the attack

at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

 

 

In 1991, my cousin, Bob Leu, wrote a letter to the White House.  In his letter, Bob described how his father, Bill Leu, was at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack and how later, Bill's ship, the U.S.S. Neosho had been sunk by Japanese dive-bombers in the Coral Sea.  As Bob described in his letter, Bill was embittered towards the Japanese for many years after the war based on his experience at Pearl Harbor and in other theatres of the Pacific.  

 

Bob explained that he decided to attend college in Japan shortly after graduating from high school in the 1970s, despite Bill's lingering animosity towards the Japanese.  After graduating from college, as Bob wrote, he continued to live in Tokyo for many years, and from Bob's experience of living in Japan and more importantly, marrying a Japanese woman years later, much of Bill's bitterness dissolved.  In fact, Bill welcomed his Japanese daughter-in-law into his family as warmly as could be.  Interestingly, just before the close of WWII, her father was training to be a Japanese kamikaze pilot while Bill continued his service with the U.S. Navy.

 

Bob's letter was forwarded to President George H. W. Bush (i.e., the first President Bush), himself a veteran of Pacific action in World War II.  President Bush read Bob's letter and decided to use it in the speech he was planning to give at Pearl Harbor, on the 50th anniversary of the attack on December 7th, 1991, to exemplify the healing process that had evolved after the end of World War II between the U.S. and Japan.

 

Bill and his wife Lois, unaware of Bob's letter, flew to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack.  Bill had attended several previous Pearl Harbor anniversary commemorations, and while he was certainly proud to have served his country during World War II, he never wanted any special attention for his participation at Pearl Harbor during the attack -- he merely wanted to honor those who had fallen.

 

A few days before the December 7th ceremony, White House staffers called Bill and Lois in their Honolulu hotel room and explained Bob's letter, then invited Bill and Lois to attend President Bush's speech at Pearl Harbor.  Bill was a bit bewildered but reluctantly agreed to attend.  On December 7th, Bill and Lois sat in the front row under an awning on a sunny day as President Bush presented his speech, which was televised around the world on CNN.  Bill, incidentally, was the only Pearl Harbor veteran that President Bush mentioned by name during the speech.  Knowing my uncle, though, he attended the speech not to seek attention for himself but rather to honor those who had fallen during that terrible day in 1941.   

 

President Bush's speech:

Mrs. Rickert, thank you for that wonderful tale of how it was at Hospital Point. Thank you for that warm and generous introduction. And now I have a favor to ask of you. I hope you and everyone else will take a deep breath for me too, please. [Laughter] You didn't need it, but I might; this is a very emotional day.

I would like to salute the members of my Cabinet that are here today, particularly Dick Cheney, our able Secretary of Defense who's done so much for the military, so much in terms of leadership for our Nation. I want to salute General Powell, the Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, and again take this opportunity on this historic day to thank him for his leadership, his inspirational leadership, for all the men and women that serve in the Armed Forces. I want to thank the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Larson. And I especially want to single out all the fellow veterans here, particularly those who are the survivors, the survivors of this historic day.

I expect if we went around the room, all of us would remember. I remember exactly when I first heard the news about Pearl Harbor. I was 17 years old, walking across the green at school. And my thoughts in those days didn't run to world events, but mainly to simpler things, more mundane things like making the basketball team or entering college. And that walk across the campus marked an end of innocence for me.

 

When Americans heard the news, they froze in shock. But just as quickly we came together. Like all American kids back then, I was swept up in it. I decided that very day to go into the Navy to become a Navy pilot. And so, on my 18th birthday June 12, 1942 I was sworn into the Navy as a Seaman Second Class.

 

And I was shocked I was shocked at my first sight of Pearl Harbor several months later April of '44. We came into port on the carrier San Jacinto. Nearby, the Utah was still on her side, parts of the Arizona still stood silent in the water. Everywhere the skeletons of ships reached out as if to demand remembrance and warn us of our own mortality.

 

Over 2,000 men died in a matter of minutes on this site, a half century ago. Many more died that same day as Japanese forces assaulted the Philippines and Guam and Wake Island, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong. On that day of infamy, Pearl Harbor propelled each of us into a titanic contest for mankind's future. It galvanized the American spirit as never before into a single-minded resolve that could produce only one thing victory . . .

 

We triumphed, despite the fact that the American people did not want to be drawn into the conflict "the unsought war," it's been called. Ironically, isolationists gathered together at what was known in those days as an "America First" rally in Pittsburgh at precisely the moment the first Americans met early, violent deaths right here at Pearl Harbor. The isolationists failed to see that the seeds of Pearl Harbor were sown back in 1919, when a victorious America decided that in the absence of a threatening enemy abroad, we should turn all of our energies inward. That notion flew escort for the very bombers that attacked our men 50 years ago . . .

 

In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces, too, of the past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our own history: The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.

 

The values we hold dear as a nation equality of opportunity, freedom of religion and speech and assembly, free and vigorous elections are now revered by many nations. Our greatest victory in World War II took place not on the field of battle, but in nations we once counted as foes. The ideals of democracy and liberty have triumphed in a world once threatened with conquest by tyranny and despotism . . .

 

Recently, a letter arrived from the son of a Pearl harbor survivor, a Navy man named Bill Leu, who is with us here today. His son writes from his home, now in Tokyo, saying: "A half century ago, my father's thoughts were on surviving the attack and winning the war. He could not have envisioned a future where his son would study and work in Japan. But he recognizes that the world has changed, that America's challenges are different. My father's attitude represents that of the United States: Do your duty, and raise the next generation to do its."

 

I can understand Bill's feelings. I wondered how I'd feel being with you, the veterans of Pearl Harbor the survivors on this very special day. And I wondered if I would feel that intense hatred that all of us felt for the enemy 50 years ago. As I thought back to that day of infamy and the loss of friends, I wondered: What will my reaction be when I go back to Pearl Harbor?

 

Well, let me tell you how I feel. I have no rancor in my heart toward Germany or Japan none at all. And I hope, in spite of the loss, that you have none in yours. This is no time for recrimination.

 

World War II is over. It is history. We won. We crushed totalitarianism and when that was done, we helped our enemies give birth to democracies. We made our enemies our friends . . .

 

No, just speaking for one guy, I have no rancor in my heart. I can still see the faces of fallen comrades, and I'll bet you can still see the faces, too . . . But don't you think they're saying 50 years have passed, and we are at peace?  Don't you think each one is saying: "I did not die in vain"?

May God bless each of you who sacrificed and served. And may God grant His loving protection to this, the greatest country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America.

Thank you all, and God bless you. Thank you very much.

 

 

Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho  (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page

 

Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos

 

Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho

 

The Pearl Harbor Attack  (December 7, 1941)

Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Bill Leu Interview:  Pearl Harbor Attack

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho

 

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942)

The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942 

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

The U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea

May 7, 1942:  The Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting For Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

List of Survivors & Casualties

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942 - cont.)

Bill Leu Interview:  Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Coral Sea

Action Report of the U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of the U.S.S. Sims

U.S.S. Helm Report

Other Ships at Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Coral Sea Scrapbook

S.F. Examiner Article, July 10, 1942

 

Aftermath

President Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

Obituary of Captain John S. Phillips

 

U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum

 

Sources & Further Information

The current page is shown in bold.