Charles Jackson French, The Human Tugboat

The U.S. Navy will honor World War II hero Charles Jackson French, a Black cook aboard the USS Gregory during the Battle of Guadalcanal, by naming a new Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer after him. French displayed extraordinary courage on September 4, 1942, when the Gregory sank near the Solomon Islands. Swimming through shark-infested waters with a tow rope tied around his waist, he pulled a makeshift raft carrying 15 wounded shipmates for eight hours to safety, defying currents that threatened to push them towards a Japanese-occupied shore.

Despite his valor, French never received a medal or decoration, only a letter of thanks with inaccurate details about the duration of his heroic swim. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced the naming of USS Charles J. French during the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium. French’s remarkable story gained attention in Black newspapers and even earned him the nickname ‘Human Tugboat,’ but it faded from public memory as the war continued.

French’s contributions were finally recognized posthumously in May 2022 when Del Toro awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. The training pool for rescue swimmers at Naval Base San Diego is also named in his honor. The new destroyer, DDG 142, is scheduled for fabrication in 2026, keel laying in 2027, christening in 2029, and delivery in 2031. Secretary Del Toro acknowledged the overdue recognition, stating, “For too long, we did not recognize Petty Officer French appropriately, but we’ve begun to correct that.”

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