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USS Neosho >
days after the U.S.S. Neosho was attacked by Japanese dive-bombers, 123
survivors of the ailing ship were picked up by the American destroyer U.S.S. Henley.
The rescue effort was hampered by incorrect coordinates transmitted by the U.S.S.
Neosho shortly after the attack, which had the rescuers searching in the
Coral Sea several miles away. The Henley searched for more survivors but
found none and sped to Brisbane, Australia, where the survivors were
As I noted on my page about the
U.S.S. Helm, the search continued in the Coral Sea
for the 158 men who had drifted away from the Neosho on life rafts
shortly after the attack. These men most likely would have been rescued
that day or the next if the correct coordinates had been transmitted to the U.S.
Pacific Fleet -- however, they were not, and the search was focused in an area
about 40 miles from the Neosho. Because of this error, almost all
of the men on these life rafts perished.
On the morning of May 16,
a full nine days after the attack, the destroyer U.S.S. Helm
a life raft from the U.S.S. Neosho floating in the Coral Sea. Miraculously, four survivors
were aboard the small raft. Shortly after the Neosho had been attacked on May
7, 68 men had climbed into four life rafts and lashed them together. During the next nine days, all but four
of these men perished from thirst and exposure; some, nearly delirious, drank
seawater and died quickly. I've posted the
of the U.S.S. Helm at Coral Sea describing the rescue of the four
Shortly after the men were rescued by the U.S.S.
Helm, one man, named Kenneth Bright, died aboard the Helm. Several days later, another, named Thaddeus Tunnel, died in a hospital in
Brisbane, Australia. The only two survivors of the original group of 68, William Smith and Jack
returned to the U.S. and lived for many more years.
After the attack, the Neosho's captain, John S. Phillips never went back to sea,
apparently too devastated from the loss of the Neosho. The U.S.
Navy offered Phillips the commission of other ships but he declined.
I don't know what happened to Captain Phillips, other than that he returned to
the U.S. He and his wife never had children.
Bill Leu After The Battle
After the Battle of the Coral Sea, my
uncle, Bill Leu, returned to the U.S. to recuperate briefly, then was assigned
to another ship. Ironically, it was another tanker. Even more
surprising, its name was also the U.S.S. Neosho (AO-48), named after its
predecessor. My uncle didn't enjoy being on the AO-48 as much as he had
the AO-23, though. Bill
served on the AO-48 for the next year throughout the Pacific and in the Aleutian
Islands of Alaska.
Bill in the engine room of one of the five ships he served on during
WW II. The ghostly faces are due to a
the ship returned to port in San Pedro, California, in 1943, Bill went ashore on
liberty on a Saturday afternoon to watch a radio show in Hollywood. While
waiting in the lobby, he developed acute appendicitis and was taken to the
Navy's hospital -- I won't say "rushed" to the hospital, since the
MP's who picked up Bill stopped at several bars along the
way to the hospital and had a few drinks! While Bill was in the hospital that night, the
AO-48 shipped out (I guess you could say that Bill was a "Neosho
After Bill recovered, he was
assigned to an auxiliary
minesweeper, the U.S.S. Spear, followed by the YMS-322 and the U.S.S.
Gardiner's Bay, thus serving on a total of five ships during the war.
He was aboard the Gardiner's Bay in the Marshall Islands in 1945 when
he heard that the Japanese had surrendered, thus ending the war.
the war, Bill returned to the small town of Skykomish, Washington and within a
few years, became a train engineer with the Great Northern (later Burlington
Northern) Railroad. He worked on the railroad until he retired in the
the war, Bill and my Dad remained very close. Unfortunately though, in 2002, my father was
diagnosed with cancer. After my Dad was told that he had only a short time left
to live, I asked him what he wanted to do and he said only one thing, "I want to see Bill."
day, I drove my Dad from Bellingham down to Edmonds, Washington so he and Bill could
spend one final day together, and during that visit, I videotaped a 90-minute
interview with them in which Bill described his experiences on the U.S.S.
many veterans, Bill had never talked much about his experiences during World War
II, even to his own family, but during the interview, he vividly described his
experience on the Neosho. Although I'd heard for many years that Bill had been at Pearl Harbor and
that his ship was later sunk in the Coral
Sea, I'd never heard the entire story until that day.
My father and his
brother Bill had a great visit then said goodbye, and two weeks later, my
father passed away. Then, about six months later, in May of 2003, Bill
suddenly passed away, which was a shock to us all. Needless to say, I was
deeply saddened by Bill's death, as I had been by my father's passing a few
after Bill died, I took out the videotape of that interview I had done with my
Dad and his brother Bill and watched it again. Bill's description of the
events on board the Neosho at Pearl Harbor and at the Coral Sea intrigued
me, and I started to research the Neosho through books and the Internet,
reading everything I could find out about the ship. That interview was the
inspiration for this section of my website, which I've dedicated to the men of
left: In 1965 atop the new Space Needle in Seattle,
Washington. That's Bill in the background. The little kid in front
with the blue shirt
is yours truly.
center: On a family hiking trip over Park Creek Pass in the
North Cascades, Washington, two years later. That's me in front. My mom and
Uncle Bill are fourth and fifth in line.
right: Bill Leu and his wife, Lois, in 2002 at their
Without a doubt, the
phrase "Pearl Harbor" evokes strong emotions for many Americans.
There were thousands of Americans serving at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack, but Bill's experience
there and his experiences afterward were especially unique.
For many years after World War II, Bill, like
other American veterans who served in the Pacific during WWII, developed a deep
animosity of the Japanese based on his personal experiences and what he had heard
from others. Interestingly
enough, in the 1970s, Bill son, Bob Leu, decided to study at a university in
Japan, a decision which, as you can imagine, surprised Bill. Furthermore,
in the early 1990s, Bob married a Japanese woman. From Bob's experiences
in Japan and his eventual marriage to a Japanese woman, Bill's bitterness towards the
Japanese softened considerably. In fact, Bill came to cherish his new
This surprising turn of events has
surfaced several times in the past few decades. At the 50th Anniversary of
the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, on December 7, 1991, President George Bush flew to Honolulu and gave a memorial speech. Although thousands of
Americans had served at Pearl Harbor during the attack, in that speech President Bush mentioned
only American veteran by name: my Uncle Bill. I've posted the speech at
President George Bush's 50th
Anniversary Speech at Pearl Harbor.
years later in 2001, and after Bob had married, the Seattle Times printed an
article about Bill Leu, his experience at Pearl Harbor, and his new Japanese
daughter-in-law. Interestingly enough, his daughter-in-law's father was training to
become a Japanese kamikaze pilot when World War II ended. You can read
that interesting article at Seattle Times
Article: Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor.
I've also included the obituary of the Neosho's
captain, John S. Phillips.
Captain Phillips returned to the U.S. after the Battle of the Coral Sea
and refused to command any other ships. He retired in 1947 and died
in 1975. He and his wife never had children.
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