When an open water swim takes on the additional pressure of being a life-and-death situation, especially with the lives of others at stake, the term epic could not be more true.
Bruce Wigo of the International Swimming Hall of Fame researched the long-forgotten story of the exploits of Charles Jackson French, a 23-year-old cook in the United States Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.
French heroically volunteered to swim the raft away from shore by tying a rope around his waist and pulling his fellow sailors away from shore as night fell. After a long eight hours, the raft was eventually spotted and the men were saved.
French received a letter of commendation from Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., the commander of the Southern Pacific Fleet that read, “For meritorious conduct in action while serving on board of a destroyer transport which was badly damaged during the engagement with Japanese forces in the British Solomon Islands on September 5, 1942. After the engagement, a group of about fifteen men were adrift on a raft, which was being deliberately shelled by Japanese naval forces. French tied a line to himself and swam for more than two hours without rest, thus attempting to tow the raft. His conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.”
For more information, read Wigo’s detailed account of French’s remarkable career here.
For a World War II trading card that commemorates French’s exploit, visit here.
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