One Night of Watery Fear
Charles Jackson French was serving his duty as a mess hall attendant in the Guadalcanal located off the Solomon Islands in 1942 during World War II. This was his second enlistment in the U.S. military. He was on board the U.S. destroyer ship, “Gregory” when it came under fire from Japanese guns. Amid the cries of, “Abandon Ship!” French, along with other sailors, some badly wounded, found themselves pitched into the sea, dodging rapid fire in shark-infested waters. A few life rafts were deployed, French spotted one of them ad began piling on his wounded shipmates. He piled the sailors on the raft until it almost sank.
During World War II, discrimination and segregation of Black and Filipino people were common, so Charles French was not able to serve in the U.S. Navy in any other capacity than being an onboard attendant (unless a separate division was formed for them). On board the Gregory, his job was a mess attendant serving white officers. French served meals to the officers and sailors. He cleared the tables and cleaned up. Down in the ship's galley, there was little chance to channel heroism, but it found Charles French right there on an October night in 1942.
After putting as many men on the raft as was possible without sinking it, French paused to rest. He had rescued a wounded officer, Navy Ensign, Robert Adrian who advised French that the ocean currents were moving them into proximity near the Japanese fleet who were using spotlights to locate the wounded in the water to finish them off.
“Then we will move away from them, I will swim and pull this raft,” Charles French said.
“No, you can’t!” Adrian replied. “There are sharks in these waters, they are attracted here now because of the bodies!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Charles French had wrapped the rope line from the raft and tightened it about his waist, he jumped into the water and began to swim.
“Just tell me if I’m going the right way!” he shouted to Adrian.
In the water, with the rope around his waist, Charles French swam with the stamina that possibly very few people could muster. He swam upon the rolling waves, the shark fins popped up around them. Mr. French towed his comrades in the ocean, swimming over six hours before they were rescued by fellow American sailors.