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SAN DIEGO — A sailor with the nickname “The Human Tugboat” makes a fitting namesake for the new training pool on Naval Base San Diego, honoring his bravery some 80 years later.

Steward’s Mate 1st Class Charles Jackson French was sailing aboard the USS Gregory early on the morning of Sept. 5, 1942, when Japanese destroyers opened fire on the high-speed transport. Outgunned, the vessel lasted just three minutes, bursting into fire and starting to sink, according to Navy historians.

But French didn’t give up. Just 22 years old, the sailor was one of a few uninjured sailors who made it onto makeshift rafts as the Gregory went down. The rafts — filled mostly with crew members nursing wounds — made rudderless targets for the destroyers. They would be gunned down if they didn’t get out of the area quickly.

French tied a rope around his waist, reportedly ignoring his crew members’ warnings not to get into the water because of sharks. “French responded that he was more afraid of the Japanese than he was of the sharks,” his Navy bio reads.

So the young sailor hopped in the water, swimming for hours and pulling along 15 sailors on the raft, according to the Navy’s narrative. Historians say five other sailors swam in a similar fashion to French, bringing all but 11 members of the Gregory’s crew along with them.

When the sun rose, a scout aircraft spotted the stranded sailors, and rescuers came to pick them up a short time later.

French’s story is all the more remarkable because he was a Black man serving in the Navy at a time when segregation remained active. Black and white sailors were not even permitted to swim together during “swim calls,” occasional recreational sessions where crews hop in the water to unwind.

At the time, French received a letter of commendation from the commander of the Southern Pacific Fleet, but a movement to further honor the sailor has grown in recent years. Supporters say French’s heroics are yet another example of Black service members’ contributions that went underrecognized as they served their country despite segregation.

On Friday, Naval Base San Diego announced that a new surface rescue swimmer training pool will be named for French, with a ceremony held Saturday to officially mark the occasion. Members of French’s family will be in attendance, the Navy said.

Also this week, the Navy announced it would honor the bravery of another sailor, naming a new guided-missile destroyer after him. Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo De La Cruz Trinidad, the only Filipino American in Navy history to receive the Medal of Honor, rescued crewmates from a boiler explosion despite his own injuries.