Bill Leu's Early Years


My father, Don Leu, and his older brother Bill grew up in the 1920s in a middle-class household in Ballard, Washington, just north of Seattle.  As youngsters they were best friends, a bond they would share throughout their lives.  Their father, George Leu, ran a successful grocery store in Ballard and George's wife, Minnie, was a devoted mother to the six children, including her two youngest, Bill and Don.  It was a happy and boisterous family.


Above:  The Leu family before taking their first plane ride, at the Seattle Airport around 1931.  Bill (center) and Don (left) often dressed alike.  This was just before George Leu lost his grocery store.

But like many families in America, the Leus suffered hard times when the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s.  Many of George's customers had bought their groceries on credit and couldn't pay their debts, and although George worked hard to feed his family, he was eventually forced out of business.  After a few years, and now nearly impoverished, the Leus moved to the logging town of Skykomish, Washington, in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle, where George opened another grocery store.  George struggled mightily but managed to put food on the table each night.


As teenagers, Don and Bill enjoyed the rural atmosphere of Skykomish, spending their summers working in the woods and on the Great Northern railroad, while spending their winters playing basketball.  They both starred on Skykomish High School's basketball team, the Skyrockets, one of the best small-town basketball teams in the state of Washington.  Bill graduated from high school in 1940, a year ahead of his brother Don, and after working in a nearby lumber mill for a year, he enlisted with the U.S. Navy in May of 1941.  He thought being in the Navy would be fun "with a girl in every port," he told me many years later.  "But it wasn't that way at all," he said with a laugh. 


In July 1941, Bill signed onto a new Navy tanker, the U.S.S. Neosho, that was being outfitted in nearby Bremerton, Washington.  Although World War II had started two years earlier in Europe with Germany's invasion of Poland, the U.S. was still neutral when Bill began serving on the Neosho.  But that would soon change.



Above left:  That's Bill on the far left in 1924, being held by his father, George Leu, in Ballard, Washington.  Bill's grandfather, Georg Leu, is in the middle.  Georg grew up in Switzerland and stowed away on a ship bound for America in 1882 when he was a teenager.  On the right is Bill's uncle, Cliff Lee.

Above right:  The Leu children around 1927.  From left to right:  Don, Bill, Eileen, George, Dorothy and Lucille.



Above left:  Bill (right) with his mother, Minnie, and brother, Don, in Skykomish around 1935.

Above center:  In Seattle around 1938.

Above right:  Bill's senior portrait from Skykomish High School in 1940.



Above left:  In Seattle around 1940.

Above center:  Fireman Third Class, Bill Leu, shortly after he joined the Navy in July 1941.

Above right:  Bill with his parents, Minnie and George Leu, in Skykomish, Washington just before he shipped out.


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 (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

The current page is shown with a  >