Navy Swimming Hero Charles Jackson French to Have Pool Named in His Honor

Charles Jackson French and sis Viola2
Photo Courtesy: ISHOF archive

Navy Swimming Hero Charles Jackson French to Have Pool Named in His Honor

Charles Jackson French, the Black Naval sailor who swam 15 shipmates to safety during World War II, will have a training pool at a naval base in San Diego named in his honor.

French, a Petty Officer First Class, served on the U.S.S. Gregory when it was sunk by Japanese forces during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. The 22-year-old mess attendant was the only uninjured person. He loaded 15 injured men into a life raft and, tying a rope around his waist, towed the raft through shark-infested waters for more than six hours in the dark until a rescue craft spotted them.

“I am proud to announce the Navy is dedicating a rescue swimming training pool here at Naval Base San Diego to Mess Attendant First Class Charles Jackson French in honor of his heroic actions,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a press release in February.  “Generations of Sailors will train there and never forget the values and legacy of such a brave American hero.”

Honors have been delayed for French, who died in 1956. While he was recognized in popular culture through comics, poems and a radio drama, the military has been slow to recognize the “Hero of the Solomon Islands.” He was recommended in 1943 for a Navy Cross but received only a letter of commendation for “meritorious conduct.”

A resurfacing of French’s name in history led in 2021 to official praise by Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon. Bacon and other congressmen have passed a bill through the House of Representatives seeking to rename the post office in Benson, Neb., in French’s honor. Former International Swimming Hall of Fame CEO Bruce Wigo continually highlighted French’s efforts and achievements, recognition that led to movements on French’s behalf in other circles.

The latest naval honor is a more concrete step. The pool at the Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC) is used to train Navy rescue swimmers in techniques for search and rescue operations at sea. A formal dedication ceremony is slated for May.

French lived in San Diego following World War II. He is buried at Fort Rosencrans National Cemetary in San Diego.

“We are absolutely elated and truly humbled to have our training pool dedicated in honor of Charles Jackson French,” said Capt. Edgardo Moreno, NASC commanding officer. “His brave and courageous actions embody the very best in our Navy and his story is a compelling example to all Sailors for generations to come.”

“It is a privilege to be the regional commander at this time to endorse this key action in recognizing the heroism of Charles Jackson French,” said Rear Adm. Stephen D. Barnett, commander of Navy Region Southwest. “He exemplified the Navy’s values of honor, courage and commitment, and it is well past time that we recognize his actions in this way.”

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