Text of Interview
With Bill Leu
Attack at Pearl Harbor
Bill, after you graduated from high school, what did you do then?
Well, I worked on a (railroad) section gang in the summer of 1940, then I
got a part time job in a mill at 5 dollars and 20 cents (a day), but they went
out on strike, and my Mother told me when I got out of high school, “Now you
work a year, and you don’t have to pay any room and board, and then you can go
to college.” Well, I wasn’t
college material and I worked a year off-and-on, and when I joined the Navy a
year later after I got out, I had 12 dollars on me.
And I wanted to join the Navy in the worst way, but I got that kicked out
of me fast. I thought it was going
to be fun and games, and a girl in every port.
It wasn’t that way at all (laughs).
Why did you join? Because you always wanted to be in the Navy?
When I was a junior in High School, I wanted to quit school and join the
Navy, but my Mother wouldn’t let me.
I’m glad she wouldn’t.
So when did you enlist?
Was that before we got
into the war?
Yeah, May of 1941. Six months… and a half… before the war started.
And you were sent down to San Diego, is that right?
Well, I picked up my first ship in Bremerton (Washington) and we went down to San
Diego -- no, down to San Pedro -- and before the war, we’d go from San Pedro,
California to Hawaii -- Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
And on our sixth trip, it was December the 6th, 1941, it was
the day before the war started.
When you pulled into Pearl Harbor?
Yeah. And we were between
the California and the Oklahoma, and the Arizona was three ships down the line.
And that was our berth:
get rid of our aviation gas. Well,
the next day all hell broke loose.
And you were on what ship?
U.S.S. Neosho. It was the largest oil tanker in the world.
Five hundred and fifty three feet.
nowadays, the oil tankers are just twice as big, twice as big.
But it was a big ship, and it was a good ship.
And what did you do?
I was a Fireman in the black gang (the engine room), a Fireman Third
Class. They don’t come any lower
"It was a big ship... and it was a good ship."
How did you get sunk (at the Coral Sea)?
Well, I’ll get into that but I first wanted to go back to Pearl Harbor.
You pulled in on December 6th…
And the next morning, I was just getting off of a watch talking to the
guys down in the compartment when we heard some loud noises and some guy came
running down saying, “The Japanese…”
-- well, he said, “The Japs” – “The Japs are bombing us, the Japs
are bombing us!” So I ran to my
battle station, and I’m not bragging, but I was the first one there, but
everything was locked up. And
I’ve told this story before and I’ll tell it again:
when I was running to my battle station, running on this catwalk, I
looked up and here was a torpedo plane that let its torpedo go and it was just
pulling up, and I seen this Japanese rear gunner and he was laughing.
And later on in the battle, I was laughing because I was so god-damned
scared, and so were the guys by me. We
reacted in different ways, but I was scared.
So what did you do during the attack?
Well, we were an auxiliary ship, we weren’t a war ship, see?
And we had a pretty crude affair.
Number One magazine was right down in the bow of the ship and it had a
block-and-tackle, and you’d put the hook down and they’d hook it onto the
box of ammunition, we’d pull it up, we’d open the box up, and hand the
shells one-by-one… Each box held three shells and they’d be firing away, and
like I said, we hit the sky every time.
you aren’t going to hit no airplane when they’re right on top of you and
with a three-inch shell. The only
way you’re going to shoot them down is with a machine gun.
Anyway, we were trying…
you remember when the Arizona was hit?
that was berthed right near you, wasn’t it?
Well yeah, it was three ships down the line.
Of course, those ships were 624 feet at the time.
Yeah, I heard a loud explosion and I think that’s when it was.
I know that shortly after we were fighting, I looked back and the first
ship down the line was the Oklahoma and she’d turned over and the hull was
sticking up, and I couldn’t figure out what it was until someone told me that
it was the Oklahoma turned over. The
California was sinking in the mud. The
West Virginia took seven hits. And
the ships -- the battleships -- were two-two-two (gestures with hands), most of
them, you know. And there was
the Oklahoma (gestures with hands), and the Maryland (gestures) was inside her
– I saw her take a hit – and there was the West Virginia and the Tennessee
and then after that was the Arizona (continues to gesture), and they had an
auxiliary ship beside them. And
down the line, behind the last one, was the Nevada all alone.
And she made a run for the channel and she went by us, steaming full bore
with three Japanese airplanes chasing her, and they didn’t make it.
They had to beach her.
about 40 or 45 minutes afterwards there was a slight lull in the battle and
(gesturing with hands) we pulled out, or backed out next to the… right next to
the Oklahoma that was turned over, and went across the channel and hid behind a
building. Then the second wave (of
Japanese planes) came in and we heard the fighting but we didn’t see anything.
And our captain got the Navy Cross because he saved our ship.
They could’ve sunk us anytime but it was “battleship day”. O.K., so now you’ve heard my version of Pearl Harbor.
I think we got beat…
It must have been quite a shock for everybody there.
I wanted to cry, no kidding.
we were, the best navy in the world and we got the… Jesus kicked out of us.