USA Swimming honors Omaha war hero for a swim that saved the lives of 15 sailors

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 6:14 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - USA Swimming will honor a swim more impressive than any Olympic feat. A sailor who lived in Omaha saved the lives of 15 others during WWII.

The story had been largely forgotten.

“He didn’t think twice he just went into action, saved lives, and extended families,” said Michael Harris, nephew.

This is the family of Charles Jackson French. He served in the Navy, becoming a true war hero in 1942.

French rescued 15 wounded sailors after the ship he was on was bombed. The story, incredible.

French tied a rope around his waist and swam six hours in shark-infested waters keeping the sailors out of the hands of the enemy until they could be rescued.

“He said well, I’m going to put you in a life raft. That’s where it all started. He started picking up sailors who were floating around with life preservers on,” said Roscoe Harris, Nephew.

French’s nephews say he grew up in Arkansas, never really learning how to swim in a community that was segregated and didn’t allow African Americans in the community pool.

“I suspect that’s where Jackson learned how to swim, was in the bayou with all the water moccasin,” said Harris.

French’s nephews say he only received a small award for his heroic act. Now, the family is working tirelessly to make sure the story gets out so the nation can learn the remarkable impact Black service members have had on our country.

“What he accomplished and people began to find out about it and they weren’t aware of it, they are shocked. It’s like something has been hidden, hidden from society,” said Chester French, Nephew.

Once French finished serving in the military he eventually moved to Omaha! Many of his family still lives in the area, including the nephews you just heard from.

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