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U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea
U.S.S. Helm (DD-388)
Four days after the tanker U.S.S.
Neosho and destroyer U.S.S. Sims were
attacked by Japanese dive-bombers, 123 men still clung to the listing deck of
the ailing tanker. That afternoon, the destroyer U.S.S.
Henley found the Neosho, transferred the survivors on board, and headed
for Brisbane, Australia.
Meanwhile, 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 Report
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
returned to the U.S. and lived for many more years.
Here are some photos of the
days after 123 men were rescued from the listing Neosho, the destroyer U.S.S.
Helm discovered four men in a raft. These were the only survivors from a group of
68 men who had drifted away from the Neosho shortly after the attack on
May 7. The Helm's whaleboat is on the left, and the Neosho's raft
is on the right, partly submerged, one stacked upon another for added buoyancy.
The four men had floated in the Coral
Sea for nine days without food or water and were all in critical
condition. Sadly, shortly after being rescued, two of the four men died.
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