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SECNAV Del Toro Names Navy Destroyer for WWII Hero Charles French

10 January 2024

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced today that the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer DDG-142 will be named USS Charles J. French, after Navy Mess Specialist 1st Class Petty Officer Charles Jackson French.

Secretary Del Toro made the announcement during his keynote address at this year’s Surface Navy Association’s 36th National Symposium in Arlington.

Known for his heroic actions in the Pacific Theater of World War II, French saved 15 of his shipmates after their high-speed transport was sunk in combat during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

“Let this ship inspire us to challenge our own limitations and to always—always—answer the call of duty, even when the waters are rough and the path ahead uncertain,” said Secretary Del Toro.

Hailed as the “Human Tugboat” and “Hero of the Solomons,” Charles French was an African American man born in Foreman, Arkansas, Sept. 25, 1919. He joined the Navy as a mess attendant before the United States formally entered World War II, and served four years aboard the Hawaii-based heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30). French left the service after his tour aboard Houston, but reenlisted four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. He was assigned to USS Gregory (APD 3) in March 1942.

On the night of Sept. 4, 1942, in the vicinity of the Solomon Islands, three Imperial Japanese destroyers and one cruiser opened fire on the Gregory and its sister ship USS Little (APD 4). With his ship sinking and his fellow Sailors in shark-infested waters, the uninjured French gathered injured shipmates on a nearby raft and tied a rope around his waist in order to pull the survivors to safety. French swam through the night until friendly aircraft saw him the next morning.  

For his actions, he was recommended for the Navy Cross, but received a letter of commendation from the commander of the Southern Pacific Fleet, Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey.

“For too long, we did not recognize Petty Officer French appropriately, but we’ve begun to correct that. Recently, we renamed the training pool at Naval Base San Diego after him,” said Secretary Del Toro. “Today, with profound conviction and a heart brimming with long-overdue recognition, I am proud to announce the name of our newest destroyer, DDG 142, will be the USS Charles J. French.”

Previously, Secretary Del Toro posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal to French in May 2022.

Fabrication of the ship is projected for 2026 with a projected keel laying set for 2027, projected christening in 2029, and delivery projected for 2031.

More information on guided-missile destroyer programs can be found here.


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