Here are additional sources of information if you'd like to learn more about the U.S.S. Neosho or the Battle of the Coral Sea. I used these and other sources to create this section of my
website regarding the U.S.S. Neosho.
I obtained much of the information about the U.S.S. Neosho, especially its ordeal during the Battle of the Coral Sea, from these books:
Fat Girl by Charles Rawlings and Isabel Leighton (1943)
This book, only 38 pages long, was, for many years, the only book ever written about the U.S.S. Neosho. It's available through used bookstores (see
www.abebooks.com). It contains some good photos, especially of Captain John Phillips. However, the book's photo of the Neosho burning is actually that of the tanker, Pennsylvania
Sun, in the Gulf of Mexico. To be honest, the writing is pretty melodramatic and filled with hyperbole, typical of books written about American battles during World War II.
Nevertheless, it provides a lot of interesting detailed information about the Neosho and its crew.
Coral Sea, Midway, and Submarine Actions: May 1942 - August 1942 by Samuel Morison (1949)
This book is part of what many historians consider to be the finest series of books written about the U.S. Navy during World War II. It contains the most scholarly description of the Battle
of the Coral Sea that I've ever read. The detailed maps are terrific and give you a good understanding of the battle. In fact, I used the information in Morison's maps of the Battle of the
Coral Sea as the basis for some of the maps I created and posted on my website. However, the book doesn't describe the experience of the Neosho in as much detail as the other books listed here.
Blue Skies And Blood: The Battle of the Coral Sea by Edwin Hoyt (1975)
This book is written more informally than Morison's scholarly text and includes several personal accounts of the battle. Although it sometimes reads like a novel, it includes a stirring and
detailed description of the ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho at the Battle of the Coral Sea. It's better written than Fat Girl and is quite informative. My only criticism is the book
cover, which includes a ridiculous drawing of several burning battleships and cruisers, an encounter which obviously did not happen at the Battle of the Coral Sea. I'm not sure why this drawing
was used and it detracts from an otherwise fine book.
I created my website's section about the U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Sims in 2003-04. In the years afterwards, two prominent books were written about these ships:
"Grace Under Fire" by Dan Verton (2006). This is an account of the destroyer U.S.S. Sims during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
"The Ship That Wouldn't Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho" by Don Keith (2015). This is a 375-page book describing the USS Neosho.
Information on Casualties
If you'd like information about a person who died on the U.S.S. Neosho or U.S.S. Simsduring the Battle of the Coral Sea, check my
Survivors and Casualties page. If you're looking for more information, you can purchase a
microfilm or microfiche list of casualties for any campaign in the war from the
Naval History and Heritage Command website. The information for each casualty includes the man's name, service number, rank/rate,
casualty code (wounded or killed) and date of casualty.
As the naval history website states, instead of purchasing the microfilm or microfiche, you can find this same information in the following book:
Combat Connected Naval Casualties, World War II, by States. Two volumes. U.S. Navy. Washington: Office of Information, 1946. OCLC
Volume 1 of this book covers navy personnel from the states of Alabama through Missouri, while Volume 2 covers Montana through Wyoming and other areas. According to the U.S.
Navy, you can find this book in the libraries of large universities or in depositories. I haven't seen this book so I know nothing about it, but it apparently lists every U.S. naval
casualty during World War II. For more information about this book, see the U.S. Navy's FAQ page at the naval history website posted above.
The navy tanker U.S.S. Neosho has never been featured (or even depicted) in any Hollywood film, to my knowledge. In fact, I believe it was mentioned in only one movie, the 1970 film
"Tora, Tora, Tora" and then only briefly (see below). Several movies have been made about the attack on Pearl Harbor over the years but, somewhat surprisingly, no movie has ever been made
about the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Well, O.K., there was a 1959 movie called "Battle of the Coral Sea." It starred Cliff Robertson, who would later portray John F. Kennedy in the fine World War II movie "P.T. 109."
The plot of this low-budget movie involved a Japanese prison camp and a submarine captain during the Battle of the Coral Sea (in fact, submarines played little if any role in the battle).
The movie doesn't show much action on the surface by the two opposing fleets, except for some goofy-looking scale models of ships.
Regarding Hollywood's portrayal of the U.S.S. Neosho, it's important to remember the sequence of events that occurred in the Pacific theatre early in World War II:
December 1941: Surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
April 1942: Lt. Colonel James Doolittle's bombing raid on Tokyo
May 1942: Battle of the Coral Sea
June 1942: Battle of Midway
Several films have described one or more of these events and thus, in an indirect way,
have touched on the role of the navy tanker U.S.S. Neosho early in the war. Here are perhaps the most prominent movies that
described these events:
Tora, Tora, Tora (1970)
I saw this movie with my parents in a theatre shortly after it came out, when I was 10 years old. My dad especially wanted
to see this movie because his brother Bill had served on the U.S.S. Neosho during the Pearl Harbor attack almost 30 years earlier.
I didn't really like the movie then, thinking, like my parents, that it was a "Bora, Bora, Bora." In fact, that's exactly how
we described it as we left the theatre. But it's grown on me since then and the more times I've watched it, the more I've enjoyed and appreciated it.
In fact, I believe this was probably the best and most factually-accurate movie ever made about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As I said above, I believe this is the only film in which the navy ship U.S.S. Neosho was ever mentioned. Late in the movie,
as Japanese planes are attacking the U.S. Navy's seaplane PBY base on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, two navy guys have the following
"Oh my God. The tanker Neosho’s over there and it’s full of aviation fuel!"
The other guy:
"If that thing goes, Captain, it’ll blow up half the harbor!"
Of course, if you've read my description of the Pearl Harbor attack, you'll realize that this is incorrect because the Neosho had finished
off-loading almost all of its fuel shortly before the attack began at 7:55 a.m. But then, I suppose those two harried fellows probably didn't
know that, so I'll cut them some slack. OK, I'm joking. But seriously, to my knowledge I believe that's the only time the U.S.S.
Neosho has ever been mentioned by name in any movie.
Above: The two harried guys fretting about the fate of the tanker Neosho in "Tora, Tora, Tora."
Above: Battleship Row – or more likely, a model of it – from the movie showing the overturned U.S.S. Oklahoma
(center) and the U.S.S. California (left) sinking in the mud. Note that the Neosho isn't at its dock on Ford Island (left). Either it had
"just left" or the movie producers didn't want to show it because, thanks to the valiant efforts of Captain Phillips, it wasn't on
fire. Nope, we only want to show burning ships!
Pearl Harbor (2001)
I thought the 1970 film "Tora, Tora, Tora" was much more entertaining, informative, and (most important to me) historically accurate
than the 2001 Hollywood soap-opera movie called "Pearl Harbor," starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale. Much like the blockbuster movie
"Titanic," which came out a few years earlier, the movie "Pearl Harbor" (also known as "Top Gun: Hawaii") tried to
interweave a contrived story of romance with a grim episode of actual history, though with much less success than "Titanic."
My Uncle Bill, who was at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack, saw both movies and also thought "Tora Tora Tora" was better and more
accurate than "Pearl Harbor." Bill's main complaint about the 2001 movie "Pearl Harbor" was that it was too loud.
"It wasn't that loud during the attack on Pearl Harbor," he told me shortly after he'd watched the movie. I took his word for it
since he was in the middle of the action.
Sadly, you don't actually see the U.S.S. Neosho (or even a cheap-looking replica of the Neosho) in either "Tora, Tora, Tora" or
"Pearl Harbor." I guess tankers, especially one known as the "Fat Girl," aren't as photogenic as burning battleships.
Above: The battleship U.S.S. Tennessee takes a hit during the movie "Pearl Harbor." The U.S.S.
West Virginia, on the outside, hadn't yet been hit by torpedoes.
Above: "Battleship Row" during the attack. The Neosho was obscured by the black clouds on the left. Actually they
never showed the Neosho, not even in these computer-generated scenes. Cheapskates.
This fine movie describes the Battle of the Coral Sea as a prelude to the movie's main action, 3,000 miles away at Midway. The pivotal battle at
Midway, in which four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk, occurred in June 1942, a month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The movie doesn't
show any footage of the Battle of the Coral Sea but, for what it's worth, you get to hear Henry Fonda (as Admiral Chester Nimitz) and Charlton Heston
(as a Navy captain) discuss Admiral Jack Fletcher's actions in the Coral Sea before the conflict at Midway.
"Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Midway" were both made in the 1970s and have a similar look and instructive tone. This is
in stark contrast to the more Hollywood-ish feel of their later remakes, the 2001 movie "Pearl Harbor" and the 2019 version of "Midway."
That perhaps reflects an unfortunate trend in our society: we don't want to learn anything anymore; we just want to see stuff blow up.
The 1976 film "Midway" tells the story of the battles in the Pacific in 1942, starting with the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April, the
Battle of the Coral Sea in May, then culminating, of course, with the Battle of Midway. What makes "Midway" special is the inclusion
of footage shot during the actual battle, much of it by noted filmmaker John Ford (Commander USNR) who, before the war, had directed many film classics
including "Stagecoach" and "Grapes of Wrath."
The movie is both compelling and (fairly) accurate, although, like I say, it only briefly describes the Battle of the Coral Sea. The movie is a
little hard to follow if you don't know what's going on, and frankly the acting isn't very good. But "Midway" packs a lot of information
into two hours. In fact, it's one of my favorite movies about World War II.
Above: The indomitable Henry Fonda (left) as Commander-in-Chief Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. He's reading a
dispatch from Admiral Jack Fletcher after the Battle of the Coral Sea – or maybe pretending to read it. Charlton Heston is sitting behind him.
Above: A scene from "Midway" depicting a true incident during the battle as Ensign George Gay, swimming in the Pacific, watches
the battle unfold after his plane was shot down. At nightfall he inflated his life raft. He was spotted and rescued 30 hours later.
I mostly enjoyed this film, which stars Dennis Quaid as Admiral Bill "Bull" Halsey and Woody Harrison as Admiral Chester Nimitz.
it successfully weaves together the major conflicts early in the Pacific theatre of World War II, including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,
James Doolittle's bombing raid on Japan and the Battle of the Coral Sea, describing how those events led to the decisive Battle of Midway in June 1942.
However, some of the brief graphical depictions in this movie of the Battle of the Coral Sea are not just incorrect but a little goofy.
But perhaps goofy depictions are better than none at all.
Above: The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington sinking during the Battle of the Coral Sea from the movie
"Midway." This is viewed from the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, which was badly damaged during the battle and yet seems
oddly tranquil in this scene. A third carrier, the Enterprise (left) is approaching. In actuality, the Enterprise never witnessed the
sinking of the Lexington. It was several hundred miles away in the Hebrides Islands when the Lexington went down that night. Also, the
Lexington is leaning the wrong way. Oops!
Above: Naval officers on Midway Island before the Japanese attack. On the right is actor Geoffrey
Blake portraying noted filmmaker John Ford, who was injured while filming the actual attack in 1942.
This recording, Fat Girl, is from the 1943 radio show "Cavalcade of America." It's a dramatization of the attack on the U.S.S. Neosho at
Pearl Harbor and during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
The saga of the U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor and in the Coral Sea was the topic of a 30-minute radio dramatization broadcast in 1943 as part of a weekly radio show called "Cavalcade of
America." To listen to this episode, visit the website:
and refer to episode "CALV 430510 - 330 Fat Girl."
At the end of the 30-minute radio broadcast, the Neosho's captain, John S. Philips, speaks for a few minutes to commemorate the valiant Neosho crewman who
were lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea. To my knowledge, this is the only recording of his voice on the Internet. Links sometimes get broken over time, or disappear entirely, so I've
posted that same recording here
There are several good photos of the U.S.S. Neosho, Sims, Henley, and Helmavailable for download or purchase from the Naval Historical Center, at
My sources of information for this section of my website include:
Personal accounts from my uncle, Bill Leu, Fireman Third Class, U.S.S. Neosho (1922 - 2003)
Accounts in the books listed above, including
Fat Girl – 1943
Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions (May 1942 - August 1942) – 1949
Blue Skies and Blood – 1975
U.S. Navy official Action Reports, obtained via the Internet.
My photo sources include my personal collection, U.S. Navy photographs, and U.S. Navy Historical Center photographs.
The photo of Captain John S. Phillips is from the book "Fat Girl." Jack Rolston, a Neosho veteran and survivor of the ill-fated
"Raft of 68," sent me several photos in 2003 of that tragic but largely-forgotten episode of history.
I compiled the names that appear on my
List of Survivors and Casualties pages from the three books listed above, from U.S. Navy Action Reports, and most importantly, from Navy Bureau
of Personnel casualty lists. Since first posting those casualty lists in 2003, I've also added names from correspondences that I've received from
family members of those who served on the Neosho.
I drew all of the maps and diagrams that appear in the U.S.S. Neosho section of my website.