My Family History


One reason I decided to take my 2001 trip around America was to learn more about my family's history.  I've always been interested in where I came from and who my ancestors were, but working at an 8-to-5 job for many years never allowed me the time to find out.  After my mother passed away in 1999, however, I decided to make the time and then, via this website, share that information with my relatives.  Therefore, in March 2001 I quit my job of 10 years in Portland to see what I could learn about my family's history.


Above:  I created this abridged family tree of my dad's side.  I created a more complete tree, with over 400 names, which is framed and  hanging on my living room wall.

I spent several months in 2001 traveling around the U.S. while researching my family's history, both on my mother's and my father's side.  Both families, as I learned, had interesting stories.  Most of my mother's ancestors were homesteaders who moved from Norway to the upper Midwest in the late 1800s, while some of my father's ancestors were among the earliest white settlers of North America, arriving in New England in the 1620s just a few years after the Mayflower.  My last name is Leu (of course, from my father's side), and my Leu ancestors emigrated from Switzerland to the Midwest in the mid-1800s.  "Leu," by the way, is a Swiss word that means "lion" and I'm not lyin'!


As I discovered during my journey around America, my mother's and father's lines shared several things in common, including the immigrant's strong work ethic and desire for land.  It's a desire that, with each generation, pushed them further and further west across America in search of their own place to call home.  It's really, I think, the quintessential American story.


In this section of my eclectic website, called "Family History," I've summarized what I've learned about my two ancestral lines, culminating on the Fourth of July weekend in 1943 when my mother met my father at a dance in Dickinson, North Dakota during World War II.  How appropriate, I thought, that these two ancestral lines, each with deep ties to America but with very different stories, came together on the Fourth of July.


I've summarized my family's history with maps, photos and stories on the following pages:


I've posted more stories about my family's history below.




My Father's Side

SACO:  The Sino-American Cooperative Organization

My father, Donald J. Leu (1923 - 2002), volunteered with the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941, the day after the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese.  He signed up for the Naval Reserve that day and eighteen months later, after finishing his sophomore year in college, he entered an intense Naval Officer Training program.  The navy was preparing to invade Japan, scheduled for 1946 or 1947, and they planned to use China, an important U.S. ally during the war, as a springboard for the upcoming assault.  My dad finished the officer training program in 1944, trained with a special operations program that was the forerunner of the Navy SEALs, then was sent to China in June 1945 to fight the Japanese and help spearhead the invasion.


Above:  Route of the Navy truck convoy that my father drove in 1945 to bring supplies into China.

He fought the Japanese in China with a unique but little-known group known as SACO (the Sino-American Cooperative Organization).  Officially known as Naval Group China and informally called "The Rice Paddy Navy," SACO was one of the most unusual and yet effective combat units of World War II.  It was also the first and only American military unit ever to be completely integrated into a foreign military force and placed under the command of a foreign officer.


SACO consisted of about 2,500 Americans, mostly in the U.S. Navy and Marines, who embedded with tens of thousands of Chinese Nationalist troops in China to fight the Japanese.  The Americans fought as guerillas, trained the Chinese troops, and served as coast watchers secretly monitoring Japanese ship movements.  Fourteen SACO camps sprang up in China during World War II to battle the Japanese, as shown on this map.


My father, who rose in the ranks from Ensign to Lieutenant Commander during his naval career, drove in a convoy of trucks from India to China via the Burma Road to resupply SACO bases there.  Once in China, he engaged in guerilla warfare against the Japanese troops while he was with SACO, before the war ended suddenly and unexpectedly in September 1945.  After the war, he spent several months training 1,200 Chinese guerilla troops at SACO's main base, near China's wartime capital, Chungking.  He decided to return to America in 1946 rather than stay in China and continue training the Nationalist troops.  That was a fortunate decision because China fell to the Communists three years later.


Due to wartime secrecy, not much was ever written or known about this unorthodox group of Americans called SACO and its charismatic leader, Captain Milton Miles, so I put together this section describing them.  It all starts on my SACO Home Page.



Above left:  My father, Donald Leu, a newly-commissioned ensign in July 1944.  After a year of training in Florida with the Navy's Scouts and Raiders team (later known as the SEALs), he was sent to Calcutta, India where he joined SACO.

Above center:  In August 1945, Don drove a truck from Calcutta to China on the muddy Burma Road, a vital supply link for China during World War II.  This was one of the first Allied convoys into China after the Burma Road had been won back from the Japanese army.

Above right:  My dad on a motorcycle (with sidecar) at SACO's main base, near Chungking, China in 1945.


Table of Contents:

SACO:  The Sino-American Cooperative Organization

SECTION 1:  Introduction

My SACO Home Page


SECTION 2:  My Father's Experience in SACO

1.  Don's Naval Officer Training During WW II
     (July 1943 - May 1945)

2.  Across the Pacific to Calcutta  (June 1945)

3.  A Navy Convoy on the Burma Road
     (August 1945)

4.  At Happy Valley Near Chungking, China
     (Fall 1945)

5.  Coming Home  (March 1946)

6.  Reflections on China

SECTION 3:  SACO in the Media

"A Different Kind of War" by Vice Admiral
Milton Miles

1946 Collier's Article:  SACO and General Tai Li 

SACO Goes Hollywood


SECTION 4:  Other Information About SACO

The SACO "What-the-Hell" Pennant

Don Leu's Brief Brushes with History

The SACO Veteran's Organization

My SACO Veteran's Forum

Links and More Information About SACO




The U.S.S. Neosho

My dad's older brother, Bill Leu, joined the U.S. Navy in May 1941, six months before the U.S. became embroiled in World War II.  Bill, who was 19, signed onto the navy's oil tanker U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23), the largest tanker in the world at the time.  The Neosho was one of the most important navy ships early in the war because of its crucial role in the Pacific, yet few people today know its fascinating though ultimately tragic story.


Bill was aboard the U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941 during the Japanese surprise attack and watched the assault while manning the Neosho's forward gun.  The Neosho was the only ship on "Battleship Row" that morning to escape unharmed.  Six months later, the Neosho was furiously attacked by 24 Japanese dive-bombers during the Battle of the Coral Sea and was heavily damaged.  Bill and 122 other men clung to the deck of the listing tanker for five days as it drifted through the Coral Sea until they were rescued by an American destroyer.  Over 400 American sailors on the Neosho and the navy destroyer that was protecting it, the U.S.S. Sims, died during the battle.


Because few people know the captivating story of the Neosho and its crew, I've put together a section describing the ship.  I've described its tragic story and have posted several photos and battle maps, as well as video interviews I conducted with Bill in 2002 as he described the battles at Pearl Harbor and in the Coral Sea.  The story begins on my U.S.S. Neosho Home Page.



Above left:  Fireman 3rd Class, Bill Leu, after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May 1941, six months before America entered World War II.

Above center:  The U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) in Norfolk, Virginia on August 7, 1939, three months after it was launched. 

Above right:  One of the maps I've drawn to illustrate the Battle of the Coral Sea, in May 1942.  Now largely forgotten, the battle was considered at the time to be one of the most important naval conflicts in world history.  In fact, some Aussies still refer to it as, "The battle that saved Australia."


Table of Contents:

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

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


SECTION 1:  Background

Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos


SECTION 2:  Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)


Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Attack on Pearl Harbor

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


SECTION 3:  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 Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho

May 7, 1942:  The Japanese Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting for Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

The Battle of the Coral Sea (continued)

List of Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Neosho:  Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Sims:  Survivors and Casualties

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Battle of the Coral Sea

Action Report of U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of U.S.S. Sims

Action Report of U.S.S. Helm

Other Ships at the Battle of the 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)

Battle of the Coral Sea Scrapbook

Honolulu Newspaper:  May 8, 1942

S.F. Examiner Article:  July 10, 1942


SECTION 4:  Aftermath


President Bush's 1991 Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times Article:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

John S. Phillips, Captain of the U.S.S. Neosho

U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum

Fireman Third Class, Bill Leu

Jack Rolston and the Tragic "Raft of 68"

Links, Sources and Further Information



Other Stories From My Dad's Side

My dad's ancestors included some of the earliest settlers of North America, arriving in Massachusetts in the 1620s.  Here are some of their stories:



My Mother's Side


My mother's ancestors were mostly from Norway and Germany.  They emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s, crossed the prairie in covered wagons, and homesteaded in the upper Midwest. 


Note:  For security reasons I haven't posted my mother's maiden name on my website.  In place of her maiden name I've used the name "Reinhard."  But everything else I've posted about the Reinhards, other than their last name, is true as far as I know.


Here are stories of my mother's ancestors: