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Home > Family History > USS Neosho > Aftermath

 

 

The U.S.S. Neosho

Aftermath

 

 

Four 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 treated.

 

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 spotted 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 Report of the U.S.S. Helm at Coral Sea describing the rescue of the four men.  

 

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 Roslyn, 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.  

 

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Above:  Bill in the engine room of one of the five ships he served on during WW II.  The ghostly faces are due to a double-exposure.

 

When 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 No-show"). 

 

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.

 

After 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 early 1980s.  

 

After 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."   The next 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. Neosho.  

 

Like 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 months earlier.

 

Shortly 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 U.S.S. Neosho.

 

On_Space_Needle.jpg (52447 bytes)    21_-_Crew_Hiking_Over_Park_Ck_Pass.jpg (58625 bytes)    2-5360_Bill_and_Lois_Leu.jpg (39584 bytes)

Above 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.

Above 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.

Above right:  Bill Leu and his wife, Lois, in 2002 at their home in Edmonds, Washington.

 

Healing The Wounds

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 Japanese daughter-in-law.

 

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.

 

Ten 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.

 

 

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.