The U.S.S. Neosho
President Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor
(December 7, 1991)
In 1991, a few months before the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, my cousin, Bob Leu, wrote a letter to President
George H. W. Bush in the White House. In his letter, Bob described how his father, Bill Leu, was at Pearl Harbor during the attack in 1941
and how, six months later, Bill's ship, the navy tanker U.S.S. Neosho, had been sunk by Japanese dive-bombers in the Coral Sea. As Bob described
in his letter, for many years after the war, his father Bill, like many American veterans who had fought in the Pacific, was embittered towards the
Japanese based on his experiences at Pearl Harbor, the Coral Sea and elsewhere.
Bob explained that he had decided to attend college in Japan in the 1970s despite his father's lingering animosity towards the Japanese. After
graduating from college, as Bob wrote, he continued to live in Tokyo for many years, and from his experience of living in Japan and more importantly,
marrying a Japanese woman years later, much of Bill's bitterness dissolved. In fact, Bill warmly welcomed his Japanese daughter-in-law into the
family. Interestingly, just before the end of World War II, her father, as a teenager, was training to become a Japanese kamikaze pilot to
attack U.S. Navy ships while Bill was serving on one of those navy ships in the Pacific.
Above: President George H. W. Bush giving his speech on the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1991.
White House staffers read Bob's letter and forwarded it to President George H. W. Bush, himself a veteran of World War II in the Pacific
theatre. President Bush read Bob's letter and decided to use it in the speech he was planning to give at Pearl Harbor, on the 50th
anniversary of the attack on December 7th, 1991, as an example of how, after the war, the two nations had healed their wounds.
Bill and his wife Lois, unaware of Bob's letter, flew to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack. Bill had attended
several previous Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremonies on December 7. And while Bill was certainly proud to have served his country during World War II,
he never wanted any special attention for his participation at Pearl Harbor during the attack. He had gone to Pearl Harbor simply because he
wanted to honor those who had fallen there.
White House staffers called Bill and Lois at their hotel room in Honolulu a few days before the December 7th ceremony in 1991 and explained Bob's
letter, then they invited Bill and Lois to attend President Bush's speech at Pearl Harbor. Bill was flustered and embarrassed, not wanting any
special attention, but he reluctantly agreed to attend. They sat in the front row under an awning on that sunny day as President Bush presented
his speech, which was televised around the world on CNN.
Bill, incidentally, was the only Pearl Harbor veteran mentioned by name during President Bush's speech. And while he appreciated the kind words
spoken by the president, he had come to Pearl Harbor, like I say, not to seek attention for himself, but rather to honor those who had fallen during
that terrible day in 1941.
President Bush's Speech at the
50th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor
(December 7, 1991)
Mrs. Rickert, thank you for that wonderful tale of how it was at Hospital Point. Thank you for that warm and
generous introduction. And now I have a favor to ask of you. I hope you and everyone else will take a deep breath for me too,
please. [Laughter] You didn't need it, but I might; this is a very emotional day.
I would like to salute the members of my Cabinet that are here today, particularly Dick Cheney, our
able Secretary of Defense who's done so much for the military, so much in terms of leadership for our nation. I want to salute General
Powell, the Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, and again take this opportunity on this historic day to thank him for his leadership,
his inspirational leadership, for all the men and women that serve in the Armed Forces. I want to thank the Commander-in-Chief of the
Pacific Fleet, Admiral Larson. And I especially want to single out all the fellow veterans here, particularly those who are the survivors,
the survivors of this historic day.
I expect if we went around the room, all of us would remember. I remember exactly when I first heard the news
about Pearl Harbor. I was 17 years old, walking across the green at school. And my thoughts in those days didn't run to world events, but
mainly to simpler things, more mundane things like making the basketball team or entering college. And that walk across the campus marked an
end of innocence for me.
When Americans heard the news, they froze in shock. But just as quickly we came together. Like all American kids
back then, I was swept up in it. I decided that very day to go into the navy to become a navy pilot. And so, on my 18th birthday
— June 12, 1942 — I was sworn into the Navy as a Seaman Second Class.
And I was shocked — I was shocked at my first sight of Pearl Harbor several months later — April of '44. We
came into port on the carrier San Jacinto. Nearby, the Utah was still on her side, parts of the Arizona still stood silent in the
water. Everywhere the skeletons of ships reached out as if to demand remembrance and warn us of our own mortality.
Over 2,000 men died in a matter of minutes on this site, a half century ago. Many more died that same day
as Japanese forces assaulted the Philippines and Guam and Wake Island, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong. On that day of
infamy, Pearl Harbor propelled each of us into a titanic contest for mankind's future. It galvanized the American spirit as never before
into a single-minded resolve that could produce only one thing — victory . . .
We triumphed, despite the fact that the American people did not want to be drawn into the conflict — "the
unsought war," it's been called. Ironically, isolationists gathered together at what was known in those days as an "America
First" rally in Pittsburgh — at precisely the moment the first Americans met early, violent deaths right here at Pearl Harbor. The
isolationists failed to see that the seeds of Pearl Harbor were sown back in 1919, when a victorious America decided that in the absence
of a threatening enemy abroad, we should turn all of our energies inward. That notion flew escort for the very bombers that attacked our
men 50 years ago . . .
In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find
its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces, too, of the past. We in the United States
acknowledge such an injustice in our own history: The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will
never be repeated.
The values we hold dear as a nation — equality of opportunity, freedom of religion and speech and assembly,
free and vigorous elections — are now revered by many nations. Our greatest victory in World War II took place not on the field of
battle, but in nations we once counted as foes. The ideals of democracy and liberty have triumphed in a world once threatened with
conquest by tyranny and despotism . . .
Recently, a letter arrived from the son of a Pearl Harbor survivor, a navy man named Bill Leu, who is with
us here today. His son writes from his home, now in Tokyo, saying: "A half century ago, my father's thoughts were on surviving the
attack and winning the war. He could not have envisioned a future where his son would study and work in Japan. But he recognizes that
the world has changed, that America's challenges are different. My father's attitude represents that of the United States: Do your duty,
and raise the next generation to do its."
I can understand Bill's feelings. I wondered how I'd feel being with you, the veterans of Pearl Harbor — the
survivors — on this very special day. And I wondered if I would feel that intense hatred that all of us felt for the enemy 50 years ago. As
I thought back to that day of infamy and the loss of friends, I wondered: What will my reaction be when I go back to Pearl Harbor?
Well, let me tell you how I feel. I have no rancor in my heart toward Germany or Japan — none at all. And I hope,
in spite of the loss, that you have none in yours. This is no time for recrimination.
World War II is over. It is history. We won. We crushed totalitarianism — and when that was done, we helped our
enemies give birth to democracies. We made our enemies our friends . . .
No, just speaking for one guy, I have no rancor in my heart. I can still see the faces of fallen comrades, and
I'll bet you can still see the faces, too . . . But don't you think they're saying 50 years have passed, and we are at peace?
Don't you think each one is saying: "I did not die in vain"?
May God bless each of you who sacrificed and served. And may God grant His loving protection to this, the greatest
country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America.
Thank you all, and God bless you. Thank you very much.
Table of Contents:
U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23)
The Battle of the Coral Sea (continued)
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