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Benson Station Post Office renamed in honor of World War II hero

Petty Officer Charles Jackson French saved 15 of his fellow shipmates after the USS Gregory sank
Posted at 6:17 PM, Sep 09, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Eighty years after his heroism, Petty Officer Charles Jackson French was honored in Omaha. French re-enlisted in the Navy four days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

When the U.S.S. Gregory was sunk by Japanese forces, French tied himself to a line and swam in shark-infested waters for more than six hours, saving the lives of 15 of his shipmates who were adrift in a raft.

Thursday, the United States Post Office Benson Station was renamed in his honor.

"We’re honoring the courage, the gallantry of Petty Officer French almost exactly 80 years ago when he saved the lives of 15 sailors. I just wish we could’ve done it sooner," said Congressman Don Bacon, who introduced the bill in the House.

French's family was in attendance and expressed their gratitude for the honor.

"If his parents and siblings were living they’d be very proud. After 80 years he’s being recognized for saving his survivors of the sinking of the U.S.S. Gregory," Chester French, Officer French's nephew said. "It’s wonderful, it’s exciting because this is something that will go down for as long as Omaha is existing. It will also, too, give the young adults some examples of what they can achieve."

Not only did Officer French save lives, but he also helped to break down racial barriers. During the time, the military was still experiencing prejudice and segregation.

"Petty Officer French, in the '30s and in the '40s when the war started, was treated like a second-class citizen in the U.S. Navy, but he changed hearts — those 15 sailors that were with him that day," Bacon said. "We know through their stories, they defended him later when folks were trying to treat him again separately from the rest of the crew. they said 'No, this man is my brother, he saved our life.'"

"Today is a step forward to really rectify that injustice he faced. Today we are hoping to honor him for his service and sacrifice," Senator Deb Fischer, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said.

Mayor Jean Stothert proclaimed Sept. 9, 2022 as Petty Officer Charles Jackson French Day. There will be another ceremony in the spring when the official marker is placed outside the post office.