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Charles Jackson French was born in Foreman, Arkansas, 25 September 1919. First enlisting in the Navy in December 1937, he served aboard cruisers Louisville (CA-27) and Houston (CA-30) and destroyer Broome (DD-210) before completing his enlistment in 1941 and moving to Omaha, Nebraska, where he lived with his older sister. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, French went to the closest recruitment office, and on 19 December 1941, re-enlisted in the Navy.
After French's ship, the high-speed transport USS Gregory (APD-3), was sunk by gunfire from Japanese warships in the Solomon Islands on the morning of 05 September 1942, he swam six to eight hours in shark-infested waters near Guadalcanal while towing a life raft with fifteen survivors aboard out of the range of Japanese gunfire and possible capture, which likely would have meant execution.French was recommended for the Navy Cross, but instead received only a letter of commendation from Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. in May 1943. Admiral Halsey was then commander of the Southern Pacific Fleet. The commendation stated:
"For meritorious conduct in action while serving on board of a destroyer transport which was badly damaged during the engagement with Japanese forces in the British Solomon Islands on 05 September 1942. After the engagement, a group of about fifteen men was adrift on a raft, which was being deliberately shelled by Japanese naval forces. French tied a line to himself and swam for more than two hours without rest, thus attempting to tow the raft. His conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service."
French served on destroyers Endicott (DD-495) and Frankford (DD-497), and attack transport Sibley (APA-206), being discharged as a Steward's Mate First Class on 09 March 1945. After the war, he married and had one daughter. Suffering from alcoholism likely caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, French died on 11 November 1956, at the age of 37, and was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
In 2022, French was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroic actions not involving direct contact with an armed enemy. The award was presented on 21 May 2022, at Naval Base San Diego, at a ceremony in which the base's rescue swimmer training pool was dedicated in French's honor.
In June 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 4168, to designate the United States Postal Service facility located at 6223 Maple Street, in Omaha, Nebraska, as the Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Jackson French Post Office. On 10 January 2024, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, announced that a new Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer (DDG 142) would be named the USS Charles J. French in his honor.
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This page was created by and is maintained by David L. Wright