The U.S.S. Neosho


Bill Leu after the Coral Sea

After my uncle, Bill Leu, was rescued from the battered tanker U.S.S. Neosho in the Coral Sea on May 11, 1942, he spent a few weeks in Australia with the rest of the crew, then they returned to Pearl Harbor and eventually back to the states.  The navy granted him two week's leave, so he returned to his home in Skykomish, Washington to recuperate from the ordeal.  The navy then ordered him back to San Pedro, California where he was assigned to another ship and ironically, another tanker.  Even more surprising, the name of this new tanker was the U.S.S. Neosho (AO-48), named after its predecessor which had sunk in the Coral Sea a month earlier.  My uncle didn't enjoy being on the AO-48 as much as the AO-23, but he served on the ship for the next year in the Pacific and in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.


Above:  Bill returning to his home town of Skykomish, Washington in 1942 after the sinking of the U.S.S. Neosho

After the ship returned to San Pedro, California, in 1943, Bill went ashore on a Saturday afternoon to watch a radio show in Hollywood.  While he was waiting in the lobby, he developed acute appendicitis and was taken to the navy's hospital.  I won't say he was "rushed" to the hospital because the navy's Military Police who picked him up stopped at several bars on the way to the hospital and had some drinks!  While Bill was recovering in the hospital that night, the AO-48 shipped out, so I guess you could say that he was a "Neosho No-show."


After recovering from surgery, he was assigned to an auxiliary minesweeper, the U.S.S. Spear, followed by the minesweeper YMS-322, then the seaplane tender U.S.S. Gardiner's Bay, the fifth ship he had served on during World War II.  He was aboard that ship in the Marshall Islands in August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered, ending the war.  Bill returned to Skykomish after the war, married and had two children, bought a house near Seattle, and became a train engineer with the Great Northern Railroad (later the Burlington Northern).  He worked on the railroad until he retired in the early 1980s.


Above:  My dad (in white t-shirt) with his brother Bill and their families in 1960.  This was at Bill's house in Edmonds, Washington during our annual summer get-together.  I'm in the back, held by my mom.

Bill and his younger brother (my father) Don were best friends throughout their entire lives.  They had grown up in Seattle in the 1920s and then in the small logging town of Skykomish in the 1930s during the Great Depression.  Our families lived in different parts of the country but each summer, my dad, who was a college professor and had the summers off, piled us all into our family station wagon and we drove out to Washington to visit his relatives, and especially his brother Bill.  We spent so much time together when I was young that Bill became something like my second father.


My dad unfortunately was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2002 when he was 79.  I was staying with him at his house in Bellingham, Washington that fall, shortly after I'd completed an 18-month trip around the world (the genesis for this website) when he received the grim news.  Later that fall, with my father's condition deteriorating, the doctors told him that he had only a short time left to live.  I asked him what he wanted to do in the time he had left and he said only one thing:  "I want to see Bill."   And so, the next day I drove my dad down to Bill's house in Edmonds, Washington so that he and Bill could spend a final day together.  During that visit I videotaped a 90-minute interview with them and asked them about their childhood, their experiences during World War II and afterwards.  It was during that interview when I first heard Bill describe his experiences on the U.S.S. Neosho during the war.


Above:  The last time Bill and Don saw each other.  This was in 2002 at Bill's house in Edmonds during the interview.  My dad died a few weeks later and Bill passed away the next spring.

Like many World War II veterans, Bill never talked much about his experiences during the war, not even to his own family.  But during the interview, and perhaps because of the emotionally-wrought tone of that day, knowing that he was seeing his brother, Don, for the final time, he opened up and vividly described to me his experience on the Neosho 60 years earlier.  Although I'd vaguely known that Bill had been at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack in 1941 and that his ship was later sunk in the Coral Sea, I had never heard the entire story until that day.  Neither had his wife and children, who were sitting nearby because Bill had never talked about it.


My father and his brother Bill had a emotional visit that day, then they said goodbye and two weeks later, my father passed away.  Then six months later, in May of 2003, Bill suddenly died, a shock to us all since he had seemed to be in good health.  For me it was a tremendous double-blow, of first losing my father and then my Uncle Bill.


Shortly after Bill died, I watched the video interview I had done with him and my dad.  Bill's description of the events on the Neosho at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and in the Coral Sea in May 1942 intrigued me, so I started researching the ship through books and the Internet, reading everything I could about it.  That interview spurred me to create this section of my website, which I've dedicated to all of the men who served on the navy tanker, U.S.S. Neosho.



Above left:   In 1965 atop the recently-opened Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.  That's Bill in the background.  The little kid in front with the blue shirt is yours truly.

Above right:  My dad took this photo of a three-day family backpacking trip over Park Creek Pass in the North Cascades of Washington in 1967, with Bill and his son.  That's me in front.  My mom and my Uncle Bill are fourth and fifth in line.



Above left:  At my parent's condo in downtown Portland in 1983.  That's Bill and his wife Lois (left).  My parents are on the right.

Above right:  Bill and Lois in 2002, about a year before Bill died.

Healing The Wounds

The phrase "Pearl Harbor" evokes strong emotions for many Americans, especially those who were alive during World War II.  Thousands of American servicemen and women were serving at Pearl Harbor during the surprise attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, but Bill's experience there and afterward was somewhat unique.


For many years after World War II, Bill, like many American veterans who served in the Pacific theatre, harbored a deep resentment towards the Japanese based on his experiences during the war.  But interestingly, in the 1970s, Bill's son, Bob, decided to study at a university in Japan.  Bill still had hard feelings towards the Japanese at that time, thirty years after the war had ended, so his son's decision surprised him.  Then in the early 1990s, Bob married a Japanese woman.  Those experiences of his son living in Japan and marrying a wonderful Japanese woman softened Bill's bitterness towards the Japanese people.  In fact, Bill came to cherish his new daughter-in-law and her family.  The transformation in Bill's attitude towards the Japanese after the war was astounding, so much that Bob wrote a letter to the White House describing it.


Above:  Bill and Lois in 1978 with their children, Bob and Brenda.

A few months later, in December 1991, President George H. W. Bush traveled to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary ceremony of the attack and gave a televised speech commemorating the event.  During that speech, President Bush described Bill's story of transformation, using it as an analogy for the tremendous healing that has occurred between the two nations after the war.  Bill and Lois, unaware of Bob's letter, had traveled to Pearl Harbor to partake in the 50th anniversary ceremony and after they arrived, they received an invitation from the White House to attend the speech.  At first they were flustered and embarrassed about it, not wanting any special attention.  But they attended the speech and sat in the front row as they listened to President Bush.  You can read the speech here.


Ten years later in 2001, the Seattle Times newspaper printed an article about Bill Leu, his experience at Pearl Harbor, and his new Japanese daughter-in-law.  Interestingly, his daughter-in-law's father, a Japanese man in his teens during World War II, was training to become a kamikaze pilot to attack U.S. Navy ships when World War II ended.  You can read that interesting story at Seattle Times Article:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor.


In this section I've also included the obituary of the U.S.S. Neosho's captain, John S. Phillips.  Captain Phillips returned to the U.S. after the Battle of the Coral Sea but refused to command another ship after the traumatic experience of losing the Neosho and crew.  He retired from the navy in 1947 and died in 1975.


This section also includes a Veteran's Forum for those who served on the U.S.S. Neosho, along with a page of links, sources and further information.



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

>  Introduction

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

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