OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Nearly 80 years after Charles Jackson French saved 15 fellow sailors’ lives, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to put his name on a local post office.
President Joe Biden has 10 days to sign the bill.
Japanese forces had just attacked the USS Gregory on Sept. 5, 1942. The ship was sinking, and 15 injured sailors were stranded. Petty Officer 1st Class French tied on a rope, jumped into the ocean and swam their boat to safety, through shark-infested waters.
French’s nephew, Roscoe Harris, has said the family wants people to see the value of sacrifice and to understand that French’s story is “an American story.”
French’s story matters to many because the Navy, in those days, didn’t recognize heroism by Black service members in the same way it did heroic acts by white sailors.
The Navy also limited the assignments Black sailors were given. French was a mess attendant, working in the ship’s galley, or kitchen. A Navy training pool in San Diego also bears French’s name.
Soon, his name will live on at the Benson post office, too. Another of French’s nephews, Chester French, said the new honor will show young people in Omaha’s African American community that heroes have looked like them for years.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., led the Senate effort to rename the post office. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., led the House bill. Both said Thursday that French’s service deserved to be honored.
“It’s wonderful news that legislation to recognize Charles Jackson French’s incredible heroism is headed to the president’s desk,” Fischer said, after the vote by unanimous consent.
Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, said people will see French’s name on the building in Benson, think of a favored son of Omaha and “remember his bravery.”
He said, “We get to finally recognize in a formal way a WWII African American hero who was raised in the Jim Crow era but rose above it and saved 15 of his fellow sailors.”
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