Neosho II AO-23 - History

Neosho II AO-23 - History

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Neosho II
(AO-23: dp. 7,470,1. 553' b. 75', dr. 32'4", s. 18 k., cpl. 304 a. 1 5", i 3"; cl. Cimarron)

The second Neosho (AO-23) was laid down under Maritime Commission contract by Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Kearny, N.J., 22 June 1938, launched 29 April 1939

sponsored by Mrs. Emory S. Land, wife of Rear Adm. Land (Ret.), Chairman of the Maritime Commission, and commissioned 7 August 1939, Comdr. W. E..A. Mullan in command.

Conversion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard completed 7 July 1941, Neosho immediately began the vital task of ferrying aviation fuel from west coast ports to Pearl Harbor. On such a mission she arrived in Pearl Harbor 6 December, diseharged a full cargo to the Naval Air Station on Ford Island, and prepared for the return passage. Next morning, the Japanese surprise attack found Neosho alert to danger, her captain, Comdr. John S. Phillips, got her underway and maneuvered safely through the Japanese fire, eoneentrated on the battleships moored at Ford Island, to a safer area of the harbor. Her guns fired throughout the attack, splashing one enemy plane and driving off others. Three of her men were wounded by a straffing attacker.

For the next five months, Neosho sailed with the carriers or independently, since hard-pressed escort ships could not always be spared to guard even so precious a ship and cargo. Late in April, as the Japanese threatened a southward move against Australia and New Zealand by attempting to advance their bases in the southwest Pacific, Neo$ho joined TF 17. At all costs the sealanes to the dominions must be kept open, and they must be protected against attack and possible invasion. Neosho was to be part of the cost.

As the American and Japanese fleets sought each other out in the opening maneuvers of the climactic Battle of the Coral Sea on 6 May, Neosho fueled Yorktown (CV-5) and Astoria (CA-34), then retired from the carrier force with a lone escort, Sims (DD-409). Next day at 1000, Japanese aircraft spotted the two ships, and believing them to be a carrier and her escort, launched the first of two attacks which sank Sims and left Neosho, victim of 7 direct hits and a suicide dive by one of the bombers, ablaze aft and in danger of breaking in two. She had shot down at least 3 of the attackers.

Superb seamanship and skilled damage control work kept Neosho afloat for the next four days. The sorely stricken ship was first located by an RAAF aircraft, then an American PBY. At 1300, 11 May, Henley (DD-391) arrived to rescue the 123 survivors and to sink by gunfire, the ship they had so valiantly kept alive against impossible odds. With Henley came word that the American fleet had succeeded in turning the Japanese back, marking thc end of their southward expansion in World War II.

Neosho received 2 battle stars for World War II service.

How the Tanker USS Neosho Helped Save U.S. Carriers in Battle of Coral Sea

Undoubtedly, some types of U.S. Naval ships, past and present, are more recognizable, more famous, more flashy than others. Aircraft carriers and battleships immediately come to mind. Less likely to be noticed or lauded are the behind-the-scenes workhorses of the fleet, such as the humble tanker or fleet oiler.

According to the website American Merchant Marine at War, “During World War II, American tankers made 6,500 voyages to carry 65 million tons of oil and gasoline from the U.S. and the Caribbean to the war zones and to our Allies. They supplied 80% of the fuel used by bombers, tanks, jeeps, and ships during the War.”

Tankers were a valuable commodity, considering each one had a liquid capacity of roughly 6 million gallons. Plenty of thirsty fighting ships depended on them for refueling at sea to carry out their combat missions.

The U.S. Navy fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23) refueling the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), 1 May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Coral Sea

One of these tankers was USS Neosho (AO 23), nicknamed “Fat Girl” and “floating gas station.” Launched in 1939, she was the second of the Cimarron class of fast tankers. With larger engines, these ships could attain a speed of 18 knots to meet the Navy’s specific requirement for faster refueling ships.

Neosho survived Pearl Harbor without a scratch, served a crucial role in the Pacific for several months, and provided one last valuable service to the fleet during her death at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.

When the Japanese infamously attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Neosho was present, located between the battleship USS California and the rest of Battleship Row. Considering the beating that the Japanese gave the occupants of Battleship Row, it is remarkable that Neosho escaped completely unscathed, even from accidental hits.

She got underway, passing so close to the burning USS Arizona that her sailors could feel the heat, but managed to navigate safely past the flames. Her captain, Commander John S. Phillips, later received the Navy Cross for relocating the tanker during the attack. His citation reads, in part:

USS Arizona during the attack

At the time of the attack the U.S.S. NEOSHO was moored alongside the gasoline dock, Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, and had just completed discharging gasoline at that station. When fire was opened on enemy planes, Commander Phillips realized the serious fire hazard of remaining alongside the dock as well as being in a position that prevented a battleship from getting underway, [and] got underway immediately.

Mooring lines were cut, and without the assistance of tugs, Commander Phillips accomplished the extremely difficult task of getting the ship underway from this particular berth in a most efficient manner, the difficulty being greatly increased by a battleship having capsized in the harbor.

The U.S.S. Neosho, Navy oil tanker, cautiously backs away from her berth (right center) in a successful effort to escape the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

That the Japanese did not succeed in destroying the fuel storage tanks at Pearl Harbor is one of the main factors credited for why the Americans rebounded as quickly as they did afterward. It is worth noting that the Japanese likewise missed a golden opportunity to destroy Neosho, the only Cimarron-class tanker in the Pacific at the time, heavily targeting the battleships while allowing another valuable fleet asset to escape scot-free.

Walter Lord, in his book Day of Infamy, recorded that one Zero even held its fire while passing Neosho, which seemed “just a waste of good bullets.”

For the next few months, Neosho stayed busy, generally accompanying the carrier fleets, although sometimes she had to transit alone if there were no escorts to spare. Her sister oilers Platte (AO 24) and Sabine (AO 25), took part in operations against the Marshall and Gilbert Islands as well as the bombardment of Wake Island.

Neosho got in on some action in March 1942 as part of the USS Lexington (CV 2) task force strikes on Salamaua and on Lae on the New Guinea coast.

Sabine (foreground) and the guided missile cruiser Albany in the Caribbean Sea in March 1967

In May 1942, Neosho was assigned to Task Force 17 centered around the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5) which was in the Coral Sea hunting for the Japanese fleet that was heading to attack Port Moresby, New Guinea. After Neosho fueled Yorktown and Astoria (CA 34) on May 6, she was detached from the main force along with the destroyer USS Sims (DD 409) as her escort, and was sent southward to await the fleet at their next refueling rendezvous.

Early the following day, scout planes from the Japanese carrier Shokaku spotted the two ships and misidentified Neosho as a carrier. This led the Japanese promptly to launch all the available aircraft onboard Shokaku and Zuikaku to go after her.

78 dive bombers, torpedo planes, and Zeros arrived in Neosho‘s vicinity and, likely to the mystification of the ships’ crews, kept appearing and disappearing for a couple hours as they hunted for the nonexistent American aircraft carrier. However, one plane did drop a bomb near Sims and the ships fired at the planes anytime they got close enough.

USS Neosho

Once the Japanese realized that misidentification of Neosho had sent them on a wild goose chase, most of the planes departed, but not all of them — after all, the ships might as well be sunk first. So it was that “Fat Girl,” ignored at Pearl Harbor, now had the full attention of two or three dozen Japanese dive bombers, with one lone destroyer as backup.

Sims made a heroic effort to protect Neosho, but was hit amidships by three bombs right away. In short order her boilers exploded, tearing the ship in two. Sims sank so quickly that only 15 of her sailors, 2 of them fatally wounded, were able to make it over to Neosho in a whaleboat.

Neosho had not been standing idly by during Sims’s demise. Commander Phillips, in his after-action report, recorded:

“The 20 mm fire of the Neosho [sic] was very effective. At no time during the engagement did the machine gunners falter at their jobs…. However, despite any courageous tenacity on the part of the gun crews, it was quite obvious that if a pilot desired to carry his bomb home, he could not be stopped…. Three enemy planes are definitely known to have been shot down by this ship, of which one made the suicidal run into Gun No. 4 enclosure.”

USS Sims

Once Sims sank and Neosho was left to contend with the swarming dive bombers alone, the assault was brutal. Phillips noted: “In the immediate vicinity of the bridge, three direct hits and a number of near misses occurred.

In the aft part of the ship, two direct hits, a suicidal dive of a plane, and the blowing up of at least two boilers, along with several near misses, occurred.” When the planes departed, Neosho was powerless, drifting, and sinking. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the ship would not survive.

During the chaos, 158 of her sailors either found themselves trapped aft and so driven overboard by fire and escaping steam, or heard garbled versions of Phillip’s order to “Prepare to Abandon Ship but not to abandon until so ordered,” and had abandoned ship anyway with all the intact life rafts. Tragically, the 68 who made it onto the rafts, none of which held food or water, would not be found for 9 days. Of the 158 who went overboard, only 4 were recovered alive.

Neosho burning, 7 May 1942.

Neosho refused to give up and sink, at least not yet. Valiant efforts were made at damage control by the survivors of the attack who remained onboard. 16 officers and 94 enlisted men kept Neosho afloat, even though she was damaged beyond repair, continually taking on more water, and listing 30 degrees in rough seas.

Phillips later submitted eight “outstanding cases worthy of commendation and praise” in his after-action report, including that of Chief Watertender Oscar V. Peterson, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help save his ship and shipmates. Phillips recounted:

“PETERSON was in charge of the repair party stationed in the crew’s mess compartment adjacent to the upper level of the fireroom, with the additional specific duty of closing the four main steam line bulkhead stop valves during the battle, should damage dictate the need for shutting down these valves. When the bomb exploded in the fireroom the iron door leading from the fireroom to the mess compartment was torn open and the force of the explosion from the bomb, steam lines, and boilers knocked PETERSON down and burned his face and hands. In spite of noises indicating further damage being done by bombs to other parts of the ship, personal injury and lack of assistance because of serious injury to other men in his repair party, PETERSON worked his way into the fireroom trunk over the forward end of the two forward boilers, when escaping steam had dissipated sufficiently to permit him to reach the bulkhead stop valves, and closed these valves. By so doing, he received additional severe burns about his head, arms, and legs, which resulted in his death on May 13, 1942.”

A wave breaks over the main deck, engulfing hose crew, as Neosho (AO-23) refuels Yorktown (CV-5) early in May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Coral Sea

The other seven cases detailed by Phillips are equally gallant accounts. As a result of his captain’s recommendation, Peterson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

From May 7-11, Neosho‘s survivors held on, with little choice but to remain on the crippled ship although the captain was certain that at any time she might “sink of her own accord or break in two” as the main deck plating began to buckle. The destroyer USS Henley (DD 391) came to their rescue on the 11th, and after taking the survivors on board, complied with Phillip’s request to scuttle Neosho.

USS Henley (DD-391)

The plucky oiler, just over 3 years after she had first been launched, met her end as usefully as she had lived, for it is possible that had Shokaku and Zuikaku‘s entire complement of aircraft not been distracted in the wrong direction for several hours by an oiler that turned out to be an unintentional decoy carrier, they may have instead attacked the real carriers in full force that morning in the Coral Sea.

Indeed, an hour after Neosho was sighted, other Japanese scout planes actually spotted Lexington and Yorktown. Faced with conflicting information and wondering if the Americans had split their carrier forces, the Japanese decided to proceed with the attack to the south. Thus the fate of Neosho was sealed, but the carriers were saved from the onslaught that sank both Neosho and Sims.

Neosho II AO-23 - History

Oscar Verner Peterson was born August 27, 1899 in Prentice, Wisconsin. On December 8, 1920 he enlisted in California into the U.S. Navy (USN) and was assigned to sea duty. During World War II, Peterson attained the rank of Chief Water Tender (CWT) aboard USS Neosho (AO-23) operating as a fleet oiler in the Pacific.

Wartime History
On May 7, 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea around 11:15am USS Neosho (AO-23) was targeted by D3A Val dive bombers and severely damaged and Peterson was severely wounded. Despite his injuries, Peterson was in charge of a repair party and managed to close the bulkhead stop valves and was severely burned but saved the ship from sinking.

Despite the damage, the oiler remained afloat due to the valiant efforts of the ship's repair party. Aboard, Chief Water Tender Oscar V. Peterson was wounded but managed to close bulkhead stop valves and in so doing received additional burns but saved the ship that remained afloat and drifting.

On May 11, 1942 the surviving crew members including Peterson were rescued by USS Henley (DD-391) then at 2:28pm afterwards scuttled USS Neosho (AO-23) with gunfire. On May 13, 1942 Peterson died of his wounds.

Posthumous Medal of Honor Citation
"For extraordinary courage and conspicuous heroism above and beyond the call of duty while in charge of a repair party during an attack on the U.S.S. Neosho by enemy Japanese aerial forces on 7 May 1942. Lacking assistance because of injuries to the other members of his repair party and severely wounded himself, Peterson, with no concern for his own life, closed the bulkhead stop valves and in so doing received additional burns which resulted in his death. His spirit of self-sacrifice and loyalty, characteristic of a fine seaman, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."

On May 13, 1942 Peterson died of wounds and was buried at sea. He earned the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. Peterson is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

On January 29, 2012, a memorial service for Peterson was held at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Chapel in Richfield, Idaho. In attendance was his son, Fred Peterson. A memorial marker was dedicated at Richfield Cemetery at block 9W, lot 3.

Lola Peterson (wife)
Fred Peterson (son)
Donald Peterson (son)

Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Chief Petty Officer Recipients of the Medal of Honor
"*PETERSON, OSCAR V., Chief Watertender, USS Neosho, 7 MAY 1942 * [posthumously]
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - The Battle of the Coral Sea
"7 May 1942 – On board the crippled Neosho, CWT Oscar V. Peterson, although badly wounded, risks his life to close bulkhead stop valves, receiving severe burns."
"11 May 1942 – Among those men is the badly injured CWT Peterson, who dies of his wounds. For his extraordinary heroism and distinguished gallantry on board Neosho during her ordeal on 7 May, Peterson was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously."
Times-News "Medal of Honor recipient Peterson memorialized in Richfield February 3, 2012
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Oscar V. Peterson buried at sea
FindAGrave - Oscar Verner Peterson (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Oscar Verner Peterson (memorial marker photo)

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Next morning, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor found Neosho alert to danger her captain—Commander John S. Phillips—got her underway and maneuvered safely through the Japanese fire, concentrated on the battleships moored at Ford Island, to a safer area of the harbor. Her guns fired throughout the attack, splashing one enemy plane and driving off others. Three of her men were wounded by a strafing attacker.

For the next five months, Neosho sailed with the aircraft carriers or independently, since escort ships—now few and far between—could not always be spared to guard even so precious a ship and cargo. Late in April, as the Japanese threatened a southward move against Australia and New Zealand by attempting to advance their bases in the Southwest Pacific, Neosho joined Task Force 17 (TF㺑). At all costs, the sealanes to the dominions had to be kept open, and they had to be protected against attack and possible invasion.

As the American and Japanese fleets sought each other out in the opening maneuvers of the climactic Battle of the Coral Sea on 6 May 1942, Neosho refueled the carrier Yorktown and heavy cruiser Astoria, then retired from the carrier force with a lone escort, the destroyer Sims.

Next day at 10:00, Japanese aircraft spotted the two ships, and believing them to be a carrier and her escort, launched the first of two attacks which sank Sims and left Neosho—victim of seven direct hits and a suicide dive by one of the bombers—ablaze aft and in danger of breaking in two. She had shot down at least three of the attackers. One of her crewmen, Oscar V. Peterson, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts to save the ship in spite of his severe injuries suffered in the attack.

Superb seamanship and skilled damage control work kept Neosho afloat for the next four days. The sorely stricken ship was first located by a RAAF aircraft, then an American PBY Catalina flying boat. At 13:00 on 11 May, the destroyer Henley arrived, rescued the 123 survivors and sunk by gunfire the ship they had so valiantly kept afloat against impossible odds. With Henley came word that the American fleet had succeeded in turning the Japanese back, marking the end of their southward expansion in World War II.

A Least-Likely Combatant

The USS Neosho (AO-23) was not the type of ship to have had stories written about her. She simply was the kind of unglamorous workhorse without which a modern navy could not operate. Her crew got filthy every day, not from combat, but from moving the black oil and other fuels a navy needed. Excepting a few token defensive guns, no one would ever mistake her for a warship. But against all odds, not only did the Neosho have a combat career, she had an extraordinary one.

A Fast Oiler

The Neosho was the second of 12 Cimarron-class oilers built as part of a public-private scheme worked out between the U.S. Navy and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (Esso). The Navy knew it would need multiple large, fast oilers to service the fleet but also knew it could not get the money to finance such vessels. Esso was willing to build some new tankers to a design approved by the Navy, but it would not pay for 5 knots of extra speed. The fleet needed its oilers to reach a top speed of 18 knots and to maintain a steady 15 knots, the cruising speed of carrier task forces.

Esso’s needs were much more modest. Its normal requirements were for a ship with a maximum speed of 13 knots and a sustained speed closer to 10. Therefore, toward the end of 1937, the company asked shipyards for two bids, one for a single-screw tanker with 13-knot maximum speed and another for one with two screws and capable of 18 knots. Based on the price difference between the responses, Esso worked out a deal in which it would order a dozen of the faster ships, with the Navy paying the difference.

The Neosho was laid down at Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Kearney, New Jersey, on 22 June 1938 and was launched on 29 April 1939. The urgency of the international situation had altered the Navy’s needs to the extent that the ship never joined Esso’s fleet. The Neosho was launched as a naval vessel, already bearing the hull number AO-23. She was named—as were all oilers—for a U.S. river the Neosho flows from eastern Kansas into the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. Her fitting out included not only the normal pipes and valves of a commercial tanker, but also the complex system of hoists, winches, and hoses needed for underway replenishment.

In this configuration she was commissioned on 7 August 1939, and in late 1940, she entered Puget Sound Navy Yard. When she emerged on 7 July 1941, now commanded by Commander John S. Phillips, she had the valuable additional ability to transport aviation gasoline (“avgas”), a fuel far more volatile and dangerous than bunker oil. She had equipment to fill any void spaces in her bunkers with carbon dioxide, a precaution unnecessary with regular fuel oil. Thus modified, the Neosho immediately was put to work between southern California and the Navy’s main forward base in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

The gasoline runs quickly became routine. The Neosho would depart San Pedro, California, and arrive at Pearl Harbor approximately a week later. Once through the entrance channel, she might dock at one or more of three different berths, where her cargo would get pumped into storage tanks. She was making her sixth trip ferrying avgas when she entered Pearl Harbor early on 6 December 1941.

Part of the load the ship was carrying went to tanks serving Hickam Field and the rest to Ford Island. She tied up at the wharf at Hospital Point and off-loaded fuel all day Saturday, finishing at dusk. She then made the short trip north and quickly maneuvered alongside Gasoline Wharf, starboard side to tied up her lines hooked up her hoses and resumed emptying her tanks. Her bow was pointing to the southwest, into a small cove on the south side of Ford Island.

Off the Neosho’s port bow was the battleship California (BB-44), moored by herself. Off her starboard quarter were the Maryland (BB-46) and Oklahoma (BB-37), next to each other. The Neosho would finish the job just before dawn Sunday morning, 7 December, and be ready to cast off and back away from the wharf as the sun was coming over Nuuanu Pali to the east. Unfortunately, the sun was not the only thing to light up Pearl Harbor early that morning.

Explosions on Ford Island alerted the watch on board the Neosho. “About 0758 Japanese dive bombing planes were observed. . . . General Quarters was sounded at 0800 and the battery of three 3”-23 caliber [antiaircraft] and one 5”-51 caliber guns was manned immediately and ordered to open fire and fire at will as enemy targets came in range.” The Neosho’s guns began firing at 0805, among the first at Pearl Harbor to do so.

As soon as sufficient steam pressure was available, at approximately 0840, Phillips called across to the wharf for lines to be cast off. But by this time there was no one there to lend a hand. Unwilling to strand any of his crew ashore, Phillips ordered the lines chopped fore and aft. The Neosho backed away from the dock, barely clearing the Oklahoma. She backed nearly all the way across Eastern Channel, then stopped and headed forward and to port in a loop that took her into Quarry Loch (Merry Point). All this was done without orders during the height of the second wave of Japanese attacks. The Neosho officially was credited with the downing of an enemy aircraft. Three crewmen were wounded in two separate strafing attacks there was no damage to the ship, despite several bombs falling close by.

The withdrawal of the Japanese carrier force may have meant an end to the attack at Pearl Harbor, but for the Neosho it meant, if anything, increased activity. There would be no more quiet “milk runs” between Pearl and the West Coast. A week after the Japanese attack, the Neosho left to support Task Force (TF) 11 on a planned raid on the Marshall Islands. This kind of activity would keep the oiler busy until she found herself attached to Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s TF 17 at Tonga in the South Pacific on 27 April 1942.

Climax at Coral Sea

As TF 17 maneuvered during the opening moves of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Neosho was called on to replenish the USS Yorktown (CV-10) and her accompanying cruisers and destroyers on 1­­–3 May and again on the 5th and 6th. By late afternoon on 6 May, Fletcher was sure enough that combat with the Japanese was imminent that he ordered the Neosho detached for her safety. She was to retire to Point Rye—a predesignated rendezvous location more than 100 nautical miles to the south—and await Fletcher’s return. The USS Sims (DD-409) was designated as her escort, and the two ships detached at 1725.

The pair reached Point Rye at dawn on 7 May. The Americans and the Japanese sent out scouting missions at dawn in an attempt to locate each other. A pair of Japanese scouts, Nakajima B5Ns (later codenamed “Kates” by the Allies) off the carrier Shokaku, sighted the Neosho and Sims at approximately 0720 and reported them as a much larger force that included aircraft carriers. This was exactly the news the Japanese commanders were waiting for, and they launched a maximum strike of 78 aircraft between 0800 and 0815.

It took some time for the Japanese to realize the mistake the Shokaku scouts had made. A crisis for them began at 0902, when they received word from the strike leader, Lieutenant Commander Takahashi Kakuichi, that all he could see was an oiler and a destroyer. The Japanese commanders assumed he had found a support group trailing behind the previously reported carriers. Takahashi was instructed to maintain contact, but also to commence an area search for the U.S. strike force. This was a perfectly rational decision, but as each minute passed, continuing that search became less and less rational, as the evidence mounted that the U.S. carrier force was elsewhere. It took the Japanese commanders until 1051 to issue a recall, and Takahashi hesitated another 21 minutes before ordering his torpedo bombers and fighters back to their carriers. Thirty-six dive bombers—Aichi D3A “Vals”—including Takahashi’s command aircraft, remained behind.

Under Attack

Phillips knew an attack was coming. Neosho lookouts spotted the Shokaku scouts at 0740, soon after their first sighting report. But the commander assumed the aircraft were friendly. It was only when the main Japanese strike arrived just before 0900 that his doubts mounted, and they were confirmed not long thereafter: “At 0929, a bomb was seen to fall about one hundred yards on the starboard quarter of the SIMS.” The “bomb” was most likely a target marker dropped by Takahashi’s Val. The Sims, whose main battery of five 5-inch/38-caliber guns was capable of engaging Takahashi’s high-flying bomber, opened fire but scored no hits.

At 1003, Takahashi decided to replenish the smoke marker he had dropped more than an hour before. Ten Japanese aircraft overflew the two-ship formation, and three of them dropped target markers. This attack was reported in a message so brief and uninformative that Fletcher, hundreds of miles to the northwest, could have done nothing to help, even if he had had the time and resources to do so in fact, he had neither. The Yorktown and TF 17’s second carrier, the Lexington (CV-2), were launching strikes that would result in the sinking of the light carrier Shoho.

At 1126, Takahashi’s dive bombers began their attack on the two U.S. ships. The attack was methodical and extremely effective, spanning nearly a half hour. Most of the attackers concentrated their attention on the Neosho the Sims was not targeted until almost 15 minutes into the attack. But once the Japanese set their sights on the destroyer, they made quick work of her. The senior surviving crewman, Chief Signalman R. J. Dicken, had swum out to a motor whaleboat that had broken loose after the Sims received three bomb hits aft in rapid succession. He was steering the boat aft to check conditions there when the destroyer’s boilers exploded and the ship broke in two. The Sims sank so rapidly that very few of her men made it off the ship before she disappeared. Between the boat he conned and two life rafts he found with a few more survivors, Dicken was able to bring a total of 15 men over to the Neosho, where he put himself and his men at Commander Phillips’ disposal. Approximately 180 officers and men went down with the Sims.

The attack on the Neosho started earlier and lasted longer. She received eight or nine near-misses for damage and seven direct hits. The oiler had a small forecastle, a central superstructure housing the bridge, and a larger after superstructure block—known as the stack deck—built above the engineering spaces, which held the crews’ quarters and most of the defensive weaponry. It was normal practice during general quarters for the captain to take position on the bridge and the executive officer (XO) on the stack deck. It was a reasonable disposition, but one that would lead to problems during the confusion of combat.

The Neosho was in shambles. All seven hits were in the after two-thirds of the ship four were on or close to the stack deck and left that part of the ship heavily damaged and burning. She was without power one bomb had exploded in the fire room, and another had partially flooded the engine room. The XO, Lieutenant Commander Francis J. Firth, was badly burned and knocked temporarily unconscious. The ship’s hull was damaged in three places and was taking on water, listing her 30 degrees to port. No one could question the soundness of Phillips’ decision when he ordered his crew to prepare to abandon ship.

President Trump proclaims Armed Forces Day

Posted On January 28, 2019 18:41:09

In a proclamation signed before he left on the first foreign trip, President Donald Trump proclaimed the third Saturday of May to be Armed Forces Day.

“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security. Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”

(DOD Poster)

According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States. I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

West Point U.S. Military Academy cadets march in the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.

“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.

Thank you to the BRAVE servicemen women who have served, and continue to serve the United States- our true HEROES! #ArmedForcesDay

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2017


Fitness test is only one part of Army’s new health push

Posted On April 29, 2020 15:56:44

While the Army Combat Fitness Test will be the largest overhaul in assessing a soldier’s physical fitness in nearly 40 years, it is just one part of the Army’s new health push, says the service’s top holistic health officer.

This month, the entire Army will begin taking the diagnostic ACFT — with all active-duty soldiers taking two tests, six months apart, and Reserve and National Guard soldiers taking it once. Then, a year later, the six-event, gender- and age-neutral test is slated to become the Army’s official physical fitness test of record.

To best prepare for the test, Army leaders encourage soldiers to take an integrated health approach to their training regimen.

Sgt. Steven J. Clough, battalion medical liaison with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, performs a deadlift during an Army Combat Fitness Test in San Francisco, Calif., July 21, 2019. Clough, who serves as a master fitness trainer for the battalion and is a level three certified grader for the ACFT, has been helping prepare the battalion for the new test.

Holistic health and fitness

The integrated approach, Holistic Health and Fitness — known as H2F — is a multifaceted strategy to not only ace the ACFT, but improve soldier individual wellness, said Col. Kevin Bigelman, director of Holistic Health and Fitness at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.

The well-rounded components of H2F include: physical training, proper sleep and nutrition, and mental and spiritual readiness.

These pillars are “similar to a house,” Bigelman said. Meaning that, each element of a house — the roof, walls, floor, etc. — are equally essential for its prosperity, like how each aspect of H2F is critical to combat readiness, and having success on the ACFT.

However, the gravity of H2F transcends the ACFT, which falls into the physical aspect, and has become “a culture change within the Army,” Bigelman said.

“H2F is changing the way soldiers view themselves,” he added. “It is made up of both physical and nonphysical domains, wrapping them into a single governance structure.”

The initiative, originally announced in 2017, was designed to enhance soldier lethality by rolling up various domains of health to complement each other and prepare soldiers for future warfare, he said.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)

Properly trained

The Army’s most important weapon system is its soldiers, he said. So, to overmatch the enemy in multi-domain operations, Soldiers must demonstrate the superior physical fitness required for combat by training properly in all aspects of holistic fitness, including the ACFT.

The ACFT will provide “a snapshot of the strength, power, agility, coordination, balance, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity of a soldier,” Bigelman said. Limited in scope, “the current APFT doesn’t fully measure the total lethality of a soldier how the ACFT does.”

Due to this, soldiers should train the way they’ll be tested, Bigelman said.

“The ACFT measures all the domains of physical fitness,” said Dr. Whitfield East, a research physiologist at CIMT. “Soldiers should train based on those standards.”

California National Guard Soldiers with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion complete the Sprint Drag Carry event during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test

Be well rested

The best training plan is ineffective without adequate sleep, Bigelman said, adding, “You’re not going to perform as best you can, physically, on the ACFT if your sleep is incorrect.”

Neglecting sleep can take a negative toll on the body. Sleeplessness can affect performance during high-intensity workouts, like the ACFT, he said. In addition, it can affect a soldier’s mood, their hormone and stress levels, and it doesn’t let the body fully recover or repair its muscles.

Adequate sleep can improve productivity, emotional balance, brain and heart health, the immune system, and vitality, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For maximum optimization, officials encourage soldiers to get at least eight hours of sleep.

Spc. Melisa G. Flores, a paralegal specialist with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, performs a leg-tuck during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test hosted at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California, July 21, 2019. Flores, who has competed in the Best Warrior competition and won recognition for fitness, said the ACFT has challenged her in new ways.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)

Eat right

Nutrition is a vital component of training, said Maj. Brenda Bustillos, a dietician at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. “How we get up and feel in the morning, how we recover from exercise, how we utilize energy throughout the day” is all optimized through understanding, and implementing, proper nutrition.

Proper nutritional habits will “enhance a soldier’s ability to perform at their fullest potential,” she added.

Regarding the ACFT, soldiers “should always train to fight,” Bustillos said, and they should do more than “Eat properly the night before an ACFT.” Proper nutrition should not be viewed as a diet, but as a lifestyle choice.

That said, nourishment immediately before an ACFT is also important. “Soldiers should never start the day on an empty tank,” she said.

Spc. Melisa G. Flores, a paralegal specialist with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, receives coaching from a grader about the proper form for hand-release push-ups during an Army Combat Physical Fitness test hosted at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California, July 21, 2019.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Amy Carle)

Clear your mind

When you toe the line on test day, it’s natural to feel anxiety, East said. Before the stopwatch starts, soldiers should clear their minds, take a deep breath, and try thinking positively.

As common as anxiety is, he said, confidence is built by properly preparing for the ACFT. For example, soldiers should not start training a week before their test or else their mental fitness can be as affected as any other component of holistic health.

In addition, during the months leading up to a test date, soldiers should do mock tests to know where they stand. These small steps can be giant leaps for an individual’s mental fitness, he said.

Soldiers cannot perform “as best as they can physically” on the ACFT without implementing a holistic approach, Bigelman said.

With soldiers expected to train harder to meet readiness goals, experts are available to them, he said, noting that physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other professionals can now be found at most brigade and battalion levels to take their training to the next level.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

More on We are the Mighty


Coral Sea

Although strategically a draw, the Battle of Coral Sea proved important in that is stopped, for the first time, Japanese expansion in the Pacific. It was also the first naval battle in history where the opposing ships never came within sight of each other, instead being fought entirely by carrier-based aircraft and foreshadowing the future of naval warfare.

Preliminary Activities
Good communications intelligence allowed the U.S. Pacific Fleet to prepare to meet the planned Japanese offensive against Port Moresby, though available resources provided little margin for error. The freshly overhauled carrier Lexington (CV-2), rushed out from Pearl Harbor, joined USS Yorktown in the probable action area on 1 May, doubling Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's carrier forces and bringing along another experienced flag officer, Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch. These carriers and their consorts engaged in several days of refueling from the oilers Neosho (AO-23) and Tippecanoe (AO-21), while awaiting the arrival of two Australian cruisers to reinforce the six already on hand.

On 3 May a small Japanese naval force carried out a landing at Tulagi, on the northern side of the Coral Sea, where they quickly established a seaplane base to provide reconnaissance deeper into Allied waters. Leaving Lexington behind and detaching Neosho to join her, Rear Admiral Fletcher took Yorktown off to interfere with the landings. On the morning of the 4th, his planes hit the invasion force. Though results were modest, to some extent due to humid air fogging the dive bombers' sights, the destroyer Kikuzuki was fatally damaged and a few other ships and seaplanes were sunk.

Fletcher then turned back south, rejoining Fitch on the 5th to top off his fuel tanks. The Japanese were now advancing into the Coral Sea with the Port Moresby Invasion Force and the separate Covering Force and aircraft carrier Striking Force. Both the American and Japanese carrier commanders spent the 6th moving westward, unaware just how close they had come -- at one point they were but 70 miles apart!

The Events of 7 May 1942

The first day of the carrier battle of Coral Sea, 7 May 1942, saw the Americans searching for carriers they knew were present and the Japanese looking for ones they feared might be in the area. The opposing commanders, U.S. Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher and Japanese Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi and Rear Admiral Tadaichi Hara, endeavored to "get in the first blow", a presumed prerequisite to victory (and to survival) in a battle between heavily-armed and lightly-protected aircraft carriers. However, both sides suffered from inadequate work by their scouts and launched massive air strikes against greatly inferior secondary targets, which were duly sunk, leaving the most important enemy forces unhit.

Japanese scouting planes spotted the U.S. oiler Neosho (AO-23) and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims (DD-409), before 8AM, in a southerly position well away from Admiral Fletcher's carriers. Reported as a "carrier and a cruiser", these two ships received two high-level bombing attacks during the morning that, as would become typical of such tactics, missed. However, about noon a large force of dive bombers appeared. As was normal for that type of attack, these did not miss. Sims sank with very heavy casualties and Neosho was reduced to a drifting wreck whose survivors were not rescued for days.

Meanwhile, a scout plane from USS Yorktown (CV-5) found the Japanese Covering Group, the light carrier Shoho and four heavy cruisers, which faulty message coding transformed into "two carriers and four heavy cruisers". Yorktown and USS Lexington (CV-2) sent out a huge strike: fifty-three scout-bombers, twenty-two torpedo planes and eighteen fighters. In well-delivered attacks before noon, these simply overwhelmed the Shoho, which received so many bomb and torpedo hits that she sank in minutes. Her passing was marked by some of the War's most dramatic photography.

Adding to the confusion, if not to the score, Japanese land-based torpedo planes and bombers struck an advanced force of Australian and U.S. Navy cruisers, far to the west of Admiral Fletcher's carriers. Skillful ship-handling prevented any damage. Australia-based U.S. Army B-17s also arrived and dropped their bombs, fortunately without hitting anything.

All this had one beneficial effect: the Japanese ordered their Port Moresby invasion force to turn back to await developments. Late in the day, they also sent out nearly thirty carrier planes to search for Fletcher's ships. Most of these were shot down or lost in night landing attempts, significantly reducing Japanese striking power. The opposing carrier forces, quite close together by the standards of air warfare, prepared to resume battle in the morning.

Events of 8 May 1942
Before dawn on 8 May, both the Japanese and the American carriers sent out scouts to locate their opponents. These made contact a few hours later, by which time the Japanese already had their strike planes in the air. The U.S. carriers launched theirs' soon after 9AM, and task force commander Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher turned over tactical command to Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, who had more carrier experience. Each side's planes attacked the other's ships at about 11AM. At that time the Japanese were partially concealed by thick weather, while the Americans were operating under clear skies.

Planes from USS Yorktown hit the Shokaku, followed somewhat later by part of USS Lexington's air group. These attacks left Shokaku unable to launch planes, and she left the area soon after to return to Japan for repairs. Her sister ship, Zuikaku, was steaming nearby under low clouds and was not molested.

The Japanese struck the American carriers shortly after Eleven, and, in a fast and violent action, scored with torpedoes on Lexington and with bombs on both carriers. For about an hour, Lexington seemed to have shrugged off her damages, but the situation then deteriorated as fires spread through the ship. She was abandoned later in the day and scuttled. Yorktown was also badly damaged by a bomb and several near misses, but remained in operational condition.

By the end of the day, both sides had retired from the immediate battle area. The Japanese sent Zuikaku back for a few days, even though her aircraft complement was badly depleted, but they had already called off their Port Moresby amphibious operation and withdrew the carrier on May 11th. At about the same time USS Yorktown was recalled to Pearl Harbor. After receiving quick repairs, she would play a vital role in the Battle of Midway in early June.

Neosho II AO-23 - History

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

This section of my website is dedicated to the men who served on the Navy tanker U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) during World War II, including my uncle, Fireman 3rd Class, Bill Leu (1922-2003).

I created and posted this section in 2004, shortly after Bill's death, and it includes a lot of detailed information about the U.S.S. Neosho and the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sixteen years later, as I write this, I believe this is still the most complete source of information regarding the U.S.S. Neosho and the Battle of the Coral Sea available on the Internet.

There are many little-known stories of World War II. One of the most fascinating, I believe, is the saga of the U.S. Navy oil tanker, U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23). The Neosho (pronounced "nee-OH-sho"), a Cimarron-class oiler, plied the oceans for only three years before it was sunk, but during that time it encountered some of the fiercest action in the early part of World War II, including the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Because the Neosho was an auxiliary ship and not a combat ship, few people know its captivating story.

Construction of the U.S.S. Neosho began in June of 1938 in Kearny, New Jersey, and she was launched on April 29, 1939. At that time, the 553-foot long ship was the largest oil tanker in the world. Four months later, it was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, and was officially named the U.S.S. Neosho. The Neosho, like other Navy oilers during WWII, was named after a river in the U.S. It was the second ship given that name, the first U.S.S. Neosho being a gunboat that operated on the Mississippi River during the Civil War.

After being commissioned, the U.S.S. Neosho sailed through the Panama Canal to the Puget Sound Naval Yard at Bremerton, Washington, where it was converted to a U.S. Navy ship. In July of 1941, five months before the United States entered World War II, it was ready for service.

My uncle, Bill Leu, at age 19, signed onto the Neosho in Bremerton that July just before it shipped out, and he served on the Neosho during its entire wartime service, until it was sunk by Japanese dive bombers during an intense battle at the Coral Sea, only 10 months later. Bill, a Fireman Third Class, worked in the ship's engine room and was very fond of the ship and its crew, a fact that was plainly obvious to me more than 60 years later when his eyes began to mist over as he described his experiences on the Neosho. As Bill said, "It was a big ship. and it was a good ship."

Above: Bill Leu in 1940

In the early years of World War II, the U.S. Pacific Fleet had very few tankers. Therefore, because of their role as "floating gas stations," the Neosho and the handful of other Navy tankers were often the most precious ships in the Pacific Fleet, frequently surrounded and protected by the other ships during maneuvers.

During its service with the U.S. Navy, the Neosho refueled patrolling fleets, transferred fuel from the mainland to the newly-established Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor, and six months later, battled dozens of Japanese warplanes during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Above: The newly-built USS Neosho in New Jersey in 1939. At the time of its construction, it was the largest oil tanker in the world.

Fierce Action at Pearl Harbor

By April of 1940, the war in Europe had been raging for eight months. Germany was preparing to attack western Europe and within weeks, France would fall, leaving England to face Germany alone. In Asia, Japan had brought China nearly to its knees after several years of war and was hungrily eyeing the oil fields of southeast Asia. Meanwhile, a strong isolationist movement in the U.S. had kept America out of the war.

Above: The Neosho in Philadelphia in 1939. This is looking forward from the stack deck on the stern. The catwalk is on the right.

That month, the U.S. Navy decided to relocate its Pacific Fleet from San Diego, California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to be closer to the action in Asia. A major problem, though, was fuel. Since Hawaii had no oil resources, all fuel had to be imported. The tanker U.S.S. Cimarron (AO-22) was pressed into action and spent the next several months speeding back and forth across the Pacific, carrying fuel from San Pedro, California to Pearl Harbor, joined in August of 1941 by the U.S.S. Neosho. On December 6, 1941, the U.S.S. Neosho, with my Uncle Bill aboard, pulled into Pearl Harbor with a full load of fuel, finishing its sixth round-trip from the U.S. mainland. Around midnight, the Neosho docked at Ford Island, nestled securely between the battleships U.S.S. Oklahoma and U.S.S. California in the middle of "Battleship Row," and almost immediately, the Neosho began transferring aviation fuel to the large tanks ashore.

The next morning, at 7:55 a.m., the Neosho had almost finished unloading its tanks when, as my uncle Bill told me later, "all hell broke loose." Waves of Japanese planes suddenly attacked and mercilessly pummeled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, sitting idly at anchor. During a slight lull in the battle, the Neosho, one of the first ships at Pearl Harbor that morning to get under way, headed for safety on the Oahu mainland and dodged bombs and torpedoes while shooting down at least one Japanese plane. The Neosho was the only ship berthed on "Battleship Row" that terrible morning which was not damaged, and Bill, at his battle station with the 3-inch gun on the bow, witnessed the entire attack.

Above left: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii about 8:00 a.m. on December 7, 1941. The U.S.S. Neosho (right) sits at the Ford Island dock in "Battleship Row." Several torpedo wakes and shock waves are visible in the water, and the U.S.S. California (far right) is oozing oil. The U.S.S. West Virginia has just been hit and the U.S.S. Oklahoma is starting to list. The U.S.S. Arizona (far left) would explode moments later, instantly killing 1,177 men. For a supersized photo, click here.

Above center: The U.S.S. Neosho (right) at about 8:30 a.m. An awning, erected for Sunday morning services, covers the bow of the U.S.S. California (left), which is listing and straining at its lines. The U.S.S. Oklahoma lies capsized behind the Neosho. This was just before Captain John Phillips ordered the Neosho's lines cut. For a supersized photo, click here.

Above right: By about 9:00 a.m., the Neosho (circled) was still backing but was beginning to swing its bow around. Counter-flooding kept the U.S.S. California (left) from overturning and it settles in the mud. The overturned U.S.S. Oklahoma and smoking U.S.S. Maryland lie behind the California. For a supersized photo, click here.

The Battle of the Coral Sea

Simply put, before the Battle of the Coral Sea, the U.S. Navy had encountered almost nothing but defeat, while afterwards it encountered almost nothing but victory.

The Neosho played an important role in the Battle of the Coral Sea, first fueling the American fleet and then acting as an unwitting decoy. On May 7, 1942, Japanese dive-bombers, searching for the main American fleet, discovered instead the Neosho and its escorting destroyer, the U.S.S. Sims, mistaking the flat-topped Neosho for an American aircraft carrier and the Sims for a cruiser. These ships had been left behind in a supposed safe area while the rest of the American fleet had sailed ahead looking for the Japanese fleet. During a relentless attack by 62 Japanese planes, the U.S.S. Sims valiantly defended the vulnerable Neosho but was sunk with the loss of 237 men. The only survivors of the Sims, 15 men, clambered into a life boat and headed for the Neosho, which itself had been hit by seven bombs and one Japanese plane.

Burning and immobilized, the Neosho began listing sharply in the choppy seas. Afraid that the Neosho would capsize, Captain John Phillips ordered the crew to prepare to abandon ship, but the message got garbled and dozens of men immediately jumped into the water. Many of those drowned while others, including my Uncle Bill, piled into the three motorized whale boats that slowly circled the ailing ship. Dozens more clambered onto life rafts that slowly drifted away from the Neosho, most of whom were never seen again.

While the Japanese planes were attacking the Neosho and Sims, they had barely missed spotting the bulk of the U.S. fleet, including the vital carriers Lexington and Yorktown. Had the Japanese planes not spotted the Neosho and Sims, they could well have found the two American carriers. Incidentally, at the same time that the Neosho was being attacked, American planes from these carriers were busy sinking a Japanese aircraft carrier.

Above left: The U.S.S. Neosho (right) refueling the aircraft carrier Yorktown in the Coral Sea, about May 2, 1942. This was five days before the Neosho was attacked by Japanese dive bombers.

Above right: The Yorktown (right) and Neosho (center) from the rear of a U.S. torpedo bomber (TBD) that has just taken off. This was just before the Battle of the Coral Sea. The small ship on the horizon to the right of the plane's tail fin is the destroyer U.S.S. Sims. This is the only photo that I've ever seen of the Neosho and Sims together.

The next morning, the men on the motor whaleboats went back aboard the immobilized Neosho, now listing at 30 degrees with the starboard rail underwater, and Captain John Phillips did a head count. Of the 293 men onboard the ship before the attack, 20 men were confirmed dead and 158 men were missing, many of whom were on the rafts that had drifted away from the ship. My uncle Bill and 129 other men -- 114 from the Neosho and 15 from the Sims -- clung to the deck of the listing Neosho and, like the men in the rafts drifting away from the ship, expected to be rescued quickly. However, unknown to everyone, the ship's navigator had plotted the coordinates incorrectly, an error of about 60 miles, coordinates that had been transmitted to the U.S. fleet.

As I describe on this page, during the attack on the tanker USS Neosho at the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, dozens of men leaped overboard, thinking that the ship was sinking. Sixty eight men climbed into life rafts, lashed them together, and drifted away from the listing ship without food or water. The open raft drifted for nine days and only four of the 68 men survived however, two of these men died shortly after their rescue. One of the two survivors was Jack Rolston. After recovering in a hospital in Brisbane, Australia, Jack returned to his home in Missouri.

While doing research for this section of my website in 2003, I learned about Jack and sent him a letter. He wrote back and kindly sent me several documents, some of which I've posted on this website.

I called Jack a few months later to ask him some questions, but his attitude had changed drastically, and he told me that my letter to him months earlier had reopened old wounds. He said he'd been reliving the horror of the raft incident ever since. Some of the men on the raft, he said, had been his closest friends back in Missouri and he had watched them die, one by one.

Of course, I felt terrible about this. Jack asked me not to call him again and I promised that I wouldn't contact him ever again. I also removed Jack's last name on my website to protect his privacy so that others wouldn't contact him. In 2012, I learned from one of his relatives that Jack had died two years earlier. I hadn't contacted Jack since 2003, but I was greatly saddened to learn of his passing.

Despite the battering it had suffered, t he Neosho refused to sink, buoyed by her partly-emptied tanks. The deck of the listing ship, however, was a mess. Half of the men were burned or wounded and almost everyone was covered with diesel oil. The men, including Bill Leu, patiently waited in the hot sun for three days without knowing what had happened in the battle, and had almost abandoned the Neosho when they were spotted by a scout plane. The next day, May 11, they were rescued by an American destroyer, the U.S.S. Henley.

After the surviving 123 men were safely aboard the Henley, the destroyer tried to sink the Neosho so that the Japanese wouldn't find her. The ailing tanker was stubborn, though, and it took two torpedoes followed by 146 shells to put her under. Finally she began to sink, stern first, and many of the Neosho's crewmen wept from the deck of the Henley as they watched their beloved tanker sink beneath the waves.

Five days later, another American destroyer, the U.S.S. Helm, picked up four more survivors of the attack several miles away. These were the only survivors of 68 Neosho crewmen who had jumped into rafts and lashed them together shortly after the attack, certain that the Neosho was on the verge of sinking. The group of 68 men had drifted for nine days in the Coral Sea without food or water, during which all but four perished. Shortly after the four emaciated, sunburned and nearly-delirious crewmen were rescued, two of them died, but the other two survived and returned to the U.S.

Radio Dramatization of the Attack

The Cavalcade of America was a weekly drama series broadcast on radio from 1935 - 1952. On their website, you can hear a radio dramatization, broadcast in 1943, of the Neosho's attack at Pearl Harbor and its sinking during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

It's a 30-minute broadcast and at the end, Captain John Philips speaks for a few minutes to commemorate the lives that were lost. Captain Philips died in 1975 and this is the only recording of his voice on the Internet that I'm aware of.

Only 111 of the 293 men on the Neosho and 13 of the 252 men onboard the Sims survived the attack. In other words, of the 545 men serving on both ships before the Battle of the Coral Sea, 124 survived while 421 men perished.

Had the Neosho been a warship, its saga -- including its unique role at Pearl Harbor, the dive-bombing at Coral Sea, the fate of the 130 men clinging to the listing deck, and the tragedy of the men in the life rafts -- likely would have secured a prominent place in U.S. Naval history. Because it was an auxiliary ship, though, few people know about the role of the Neosho during World War II.

Therefore, to honor my uncle Bill Leu and the other men who served on board "The Fat Girl," as the Neosho was affectionately called, I'm devoting this section of my website to that valiant ship and to its staunch defender, the U.S.S. Sims. And if you have photos or stories of the U.S.S. Neosho, I'd be happy to include them in this website. If so, please contact me.

Above: This is the last known picture taken of the U.S.S. Neosho. It was taken from a Japanese plane about 1 p.m. on May 7, 1942, after Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers attacked the Neosho and its escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Sims. Despite a 30-degree list, the ship would continue to float for four days until the surviving 123 crewmen, including my uncle, Bill Leu, were rescued by the destroyer U.S.S. Henley on May 11.

Above left: Five days after the U.S.S Henley rescued the men on the Neosho, on May 16, the destroyer U.S.S. Helm discovered four men in a raft over 50 miles away. These were the only survivors from a group of 68 men who had drifted away from the Neosho shortly after the attack on May 7 (the Helm's whaleboat is on the left and the Neosho's raft is on the right, partly submerged). The four men had floated on the raft for nine days without food or water and were in critical condition. Shortly after being rescued, two of the four men died and the other two returned to the U.S. In 2010, Jack Rolston, the last of these men, died in Missouri. Jack sent me this photo in 2003 and wrote the word, "Me," which you can see above and to the right of his image, as he sat on the raft, too weak to climb into the whaleboat.

Above right: This is the tanker USS Pennsylvania Sun after an attack by a German U-Boat in the Gulf of Mexico in 1942. This ship was similar to the Neosho and it met a similar fate. From 2003 until 2018, I had posted this photo on my website saying that it was the USS Neosho during the Battle of the Coral Sea -- but I was wrong. An astute reader named Mike Green contacted me in 2018 and told me about my error. Above this photo I've posted a confirmed photo of the USS Neosho under attack during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Interview With Bill Leu

Throughout my childhood, I'd heard that my Uncle Bill had served at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack and that later his ship was sunk in the Coral Sea. Although I was fascinated by these stories, Bill, like many veterans, never talked much about his wartime experiences and I never inquired. I kept telling myself, though, that one day I'd ask him about it. Finally, in November of 2002, I had an opportunity to videotape an interview with my 80-year old uncle and his brother, my 79-year old father, Don Leu.

I'd always wanted to interview my Dad and my Uncle Bill together, but unfortunately the circumstances that led to this event were tinged with sadness. Earlier that fall, my father had been diagnosed with cancer and in mid-November, the hospice nurse told my Dad that he had only a week left to live. After the nurse left, I asked my Dad what he would like to do in the short time he had left, and he said only one thing: "I want to see my brother Bill." During their entire lives, my Dad and Bill were best friends, so it was no surprise that my father's final request was to visit with his older brother one last time.

The next morning, I drove my Dad to Seattle where we spent the whole day with Bill and his family. During the visit, I videotaped an interview with my Dad and Bill, during which I asked them about their experiences in World War II. I knew this might be my last chance to hear my Uncle Bill talk about his wartime experiences, so I asked him about Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Pearl Harbor Attack, USS Neosho (AO-23)

Serial 711 U.S.S. Neosho
December 11, 1941.

From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Subject: Raid on Pearl Harbor, T.H., December 7, 1941 - Report on

In accordance with reference (a) the following report is submitted:
At 0755, December 7, 1941, the U.S.S.Neosho was moored, starboard side to, in Berth F-4, Naval Air Station, Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, T.H., having just finished delivering aviation gasoline.

About 0758 Japanese dive bomber planes were observed bombing the Naval Air Station. General Quarters was sounded at 0800 and the battery of three 3"-23 caliber A.A. and one 5"-51 caliber guns was manned immediately and ordered to open fire and fire at will as enemy targets came in range. No fifty caliber Machine Guns were used as they had not been received on board. Opened fire on Japanese planes at 0805 when in range. Fuses were set on firing against dive bombers (3.2 sec.). Immediate preparations for getting underway was ordered. Underway at 0842 after chopping lines to bollards on piles off each end of dock as no assistance was available for casting them off. In backing away from the dock the Neosho barely cleared the USS Oklahoma which had capsized to port. Proceeding during the third wave of the attack to Berth M-3, Merry Point engaging the enemy enroute as opportunity presented. At 0930 moored in berth M-3, astern the USS Castor to await instructions from Commander Base Force, Neosho having gotten underway from Berth F-4 without orders in order to clear the way for the USS Maryland in the event that the latter desired to move. At 1136 discontinued firing, enemy having retired. Expended 171 rounds of 3"-23 caliber A.A.

At 0912 Neosho hit enemy plane which is believed to have crashed since it disappeared from view in an obvious side slip at low altitude. At least two enemy torpedo planes were observed headed directly towards this ship while underway with apparent object of battleships a targets. It is believed that our fire deflected, or at least forced these planes away from their objectives for they were seen to change course radically to the right without dropping their torpedoes.

Own damage - None, although several bombs fell close to the stern jarring the ship appreciably, but no leakage has been noted.

The conduct of the officers and men attached to the USS Neosho and that of the passengers on board for transportation from, and to, the United States was outstanding and worthy of highest praise. It is a matter of interest that (37.5%) of the men attached to this ship have come from the Training Station within the past nine months, and that all the gunnery personnel are stationed in exposed positions. The Gunnery discipline of the battery was excellent, as was the discipline of the ship control, repair parties, and Engineering personnel.

Watch the video: The Sinking of the USS Neosho during the Battle of the Coral Sea May 1942 (August 2022).