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Secretary Carlos Del Toro Releases 2024 Black History Month Message and Video to the Force.
February is Black History Month. It is an opportunity to pay tribute to the remarkable contributions of African-American Service Members and civilians who have and continue to serve our Nation with unwavering dedication.
The legacy of African-Americans in the sea services spans centuries, dating to 1775 where their service has been characterized by our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Throughout various conflicts, African-American Sailors and Marines displayed unparalleled courage, contributing to our Nation's victories both at home and abroad. From the Revolutionary War, where Sailors like James Forten fought alongside Captain Stephen Decatur, to the Civil War, where one in five Union Sailors were African-American and eight were awarded the Medal of Honor - their patriotism has left an indelible mark on naval history. In World War II, over 17,000 African-Americans enlisted as Montford Point Marines, marking a pivotal moment in the Corps' history.
This year, we proudly introduce our newest destroyer, the USS CHARLES J. FRENCH (DDG 142), and commission the USS JOHN L. CANLEY (ESB 6). These vessels stand as enduring tributes to two African-American leaders, Petty Officer Charles J. French and Sergeant Major John L. Canley, who, until now, had not received the recognition their service deserves. Their names will now grace these ships, serving as beacons of inspiration for generations to come.
French's heroic actions in September 1942 during the Imperial Japanese Navy's sinking of his ship, the USS GREGORY (DD 82), exemplified our core values. In the aftermath, French gathered 15 shipmates onto a raft and, fearing they would drift to a Japanese-controlled island, towed the raft himself to a different island. Swimming for hours and defying all odds to save his shipmates, French embodied what it means to serve a Nation, and more importantly, his Navy brethren.
Canley's extraordinary leadership during the Vietnam War further emphasizes the valor of African-American Service Members. During the Battle of Hue, Canley served as the Company Gunnery Sergeant for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. In February 1968, Canley and his Marines fought off multiple attacks as they patrolled city streets to relieve another company of Marines. He repeatedly rushed across gunfire-swept terrain to carry wounded Marines to safety and, when his company commander was wounded during the fire-fight, Canley took command of his company and led the Marines through the battle. For his courageous actions, Canley was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018.
As we reflect on Black History Month, let us honor the valiant leaders of the past and present who have contributed to making the world's finest Navy and Marine Corps. Together we celebrate the diversity and strength that enriches our sea services.
Released by the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy.
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