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Navy Dedicates Rescue Swimmer Training Pool and Presents Posthumous Award to WWII Hero’s Family

23 May 2022

From Krishna Jackson, Naval Base San Diego Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO - The Navy dedicated a surface rescue swimmer training pool located at Naval Base San Diego (NBSD) in honor of Steward’s Mate 1st Class Charles Jackson French Saturday, May 21, 2022.

The pool facility belongs to Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC). NASC is located in Pensacola, Fla., but has swim sites in locations like NBSD. This particular pool trains surface rescue swimmers to save lives and the command’s moto is “So others may live.”

“At Naval Aviation Schools Command, we proudly and enthusiastically teach our student naval aviators, aircrew and rescue swimmers about the history and heritage of our Navy and the extraordinary actions of those who came before us,” said NASC Executive Officer Cmdr. Brandy McNabb during the ceremony.



The ceremony was set inside the training pool facility and behind McNabb, as she speaks to the family of French and the guests seated before her, sits a 20 person life raft floating empty on top of the quiet water of the Olympic size pool. McNabb breaks from her speech to share a story from another Navy leader assigned to NBSD, who has a unique connection to French but couldn’t be at the ceremony to share in person.

“Capt. Spencer Austin, the Commodore of Mine Division TWELVE has a personal connection to the family,” she said. “He unfortunately could not be here with us today, but has requested that we share his grandfather’s story."

“My grandfather [Oswald Austin] told me he was in the pilot house with the commanding officer when the Japanese started shelling the ship and he was knocked over the life rails falling to the main deck below with severe shrapnel wounds,” wrote Austin. “We determined that someone had to have rescued my grandfather because he was too badly injured to swim and for years I couldn’t understand how he got out of the water that night based on his injuries. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I heard of Charles [Jackson] French and after speaking with the family and reviewing old news reports that Mrs. Linda French sent to me, I believe my grandfather was rescued by Mr. Charles [Jackson] French and it was he who swam my grandfather to safety,” read McNabb.

Three generations of French’s family were seated in the front row at the ceremony including; nephews Chester French and Roscoe Harris, Chester’s wife Linda, Roscoe’s sons Michael and Christopher Harris and Christopher’s sons Chris Jr., Mark and Samuel Harris.

“I had the honor of sharing this news with the family,” said Commander, Navy Region Southwest, Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett.

Barnett recounted calling the family and how honored he was to spend time talking to them about the pool dedication. “It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you in person,” he said.

French was awarded a Letter of Commendation by then Commander, South Pacific Area and South Pacific Forces, Admiral William Halsey for his actions. However, many believe the award is not commensurate with French’s actions due to his being African American during a time of racial inequality.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Charles [Jackson] French was an African American serving at a time when prejudice and discrimination were ever present in our Armed Forces and society,” said NBSD Commanding Officer, Capt. Ted Carlson. “Which makes this recognition of Charles [Jackson] French’s heroic actions even more significant.”

French’s family nodded in agreement with Carlson’s acknowledgement but the Navy’s Chief of Information, Rear Adm. Charles Brown had brought something special to the ceremony to present to the family on behalf of the President of the United States and the Navy.

“On behalf of the Secretary of the Navy Carlos De Toro, it is my tremendous honor to welcome up to the front the family of Petty Officer French so that we may more properly recognize his actions,” said Brown as he welcomed the family to join him.

“The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy and Marine Corps Medal posthumously to Mess Attendant Second Class Charles Jackson French, United States Navy for service as set forth in the following citation: For heroism while serving on board USS GREGORY, a destroyer transport ship that was lost during an engagement with Japanese forces in the British Solomon Islands on September 5th, 1942. After the engagement, a group of about fifteen men were adrift on a raft, which was being deliberately shelled by Japanese naval forces. Mess Attendant Second Class French tied a line to himself and swam for more than two hours without rest in an attempt to tow the raft. By his initiative, courage, and complete dedication to duty, Mess Attendant First Class French reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Services.”

After the award presentation, the French family was joined by Mr. James Wright from Nebraska Congressman Don Bacon’s office, for a ceremonial ribbon cutting with Navy officials. The event officially marked the dedication and naming of the NASC training pool to the “Charles Jackson French Training Pool.”

“It will inspire generations of Sailors,” said Brown of the story of French. “It’s a story of the best of who we are."

French left the Navy as a Steward’s Mate 1st Class and settled in San Diego with his wife. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

 

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