Neldon Theo French -- born on 25 July 1918 in Benton County, Tenn., to Clarence H. and Alma M. French -- enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 9 September 1940 at Nashville, Tenn., and arrived at the Marine Barracks, Parris Island, S.C., two days later. Following his boot camp training, French served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (from 23 December 1940), and at the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Va. (from 23 June 1941), where he received promotions to private 1st class (28 December 1941) and corporal (22 March 1942). Carried as “in the field” on 28 April 1942, Cpl. French took part in the Guadalcanal campaign, being wounded in action on 24 September 1942.
Subsequently, on 8 October 1942, Cpl. French, in Company A, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, dug in in a defensive position along the Matanikau River, came under attack by approximately 150 Japanese that plunged through the dense jungle growth against the leathernecks' hastily prepared positions under the cover of smoke. French and other members of his platoon bore the brunt of the savage assault, the enemy employing automatic weapons, hand grenades and bayonets. Fighting fiercely in hand-to-hand combat, the marines refused to be dislodged and while they died at their positions, they exacted a heavy toll, daylight revealing 78 dead Japanese on the field of battle.
For his heroism on the night of 8-9 October 1942, the 24-year old Tennesseean was awarded the Navy Cross (posthumously), as well as a share of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded the First Marine Division. Originally interred on Guadalcanal, French’s remains were eventually returned to the land of his birth in response to his mother’s request on 30 June 1947, and he lies in Baker’s Chapel Cemetery, Camden, Tennessee.
(DE-367: displacement 1,400; length 306'; beam 36'10"; draft 13'6"; speed 24 knots; complement 186; armament 3 3-inch, 2 40 millimeter, 8 20 millimeter, 3 21-inch torpedo tubes, 1 depth charge projector (hedgehog), 8 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class John C. Butler)
French (DE-367) was laid down on 1 May 1944 at Orange, Texas, by the Consolidated Steel Corp.; sponsored by Mrs. Alma M. French, mother of the late Cpl. French; launched on 17 June 1944; and commissioned on 9 October 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas K. Dunstan, (D) USNR, in command.
French sailed for the British West Indies on 25 October 1944, in company with Alvin C. Cockrell (DE-366) and reached Great Sound, Bermuda, on 31 October. After almost a month of intensified shakedown training, the new escort vessel departed Bermuda on 30 November 1944, headed for Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard. Arriving there on 1 December, French began an eight day post-shakedown availability.
Following that period of repairs and alterations, French departed Boston on 10 December 1944, entered the East River the following morning, then sailed for Norfolk, Va., that afternoon. En route, the crew practiced firing all of her guns and expended 3 rounds of 5-inch/38 caliber, 64 rounds of 40 millimeter and 130 rounds of 20 millimeter without incident. The ship stood into Hampton Roads on the evening of 12 December.
Afterwards, French sailed for the Navy submarine base and air station at Coco Solo, Canal Zone (C.Z.) on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal on 16 December 1944. She escorted the general-stores-issue ship Kochab (AKS-6) as part of Task Unit (TU) 29.6.3. On 24 December, French arrived at Colon, C.Z., transited the isthmian waterway, and then moored at Balboa.
French reported for duty to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet on 25 December 1944, and by 1500, she was underway for San Diego, Calif., shepherding the escort carriers Tripoli (CVE-64) and Kasaan Bay (CVE-69). Having completed her assignment, French moored at the Naval Repair Base on 2 January 1945.
Five days later, on 7 January 1945, French got underway for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in company with the light minelayer Gamble (DM-15). The following day, the two ships made rendezvous with the large cruiser Alaska (CB-1) as they steamed towards Oahu. The trio arrived on 13 January and moored at Middle Loch. After three days of firing exercises, French, in company with Alvin C. Cockrell, rendezvoused with convoy PD-256-T and set course for Eniwetok, Marshall Islands.
The convoy reached Eniwetok at 1044 on 25 January 1945. The following day, French received orders from the Commander Task Group (CTG) 96.3 to steam for Kossol Roads, Palau Islands, to escort TU 96.3.14. After four days of sailing, the ships arrived at their destination, but soon afterwards French was underway for Ulithi on 3 February which she reached the next day. The escort ship ranged primarily between Ulithi and Eniwetok through April.
On 2 April 1945, French deployed for hunter-killer operations in company with her sister ship Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368). At 2330, the escort ships investigated a sonar contact and fired 24 Mk.10 projectiles to negative results, repeating the process again at 0006, but again to negative results. She then returned to Eniwetok Lagoon.
French bombarded enemy shore installations on Malakal and Arakabesan Islands on 4 June 1945 and expended 323 rounds of 5-inch/38 caliber antiaircraft common (AAC) and 124 rounds of 40 millimeter. The first target taken under fire consisted of three water tanks on Malakal Island. An aircraft spotter reported approximately 12 hits and possible damage. The second target, a group of buildings on a dock, sustained nearly 30 hits, but the extent of the damage could not be determined. She scored 6 hits on the third target, which consisted of several anti-aircraft gun emplacements. Since the target was not visible from the ship, the damage could not be assessed. About 10 hits on the final target damaged a small boat repair facility. “In this shoot, the first action against the enemy for us,” Lt. Cmdr. Reginald C. Robbins, Jr., (D) USNR, French’s commanding officer, later reported, “this ship pumped so much ammunition in to the shore installations that the men … had difficulty passing ammunition at a rate fast enough to keep up with the expenditure of ammunition”.
French was en route to Peleliu on 23 July 1945 when she received a dispatch from Commander TU 94.6.1 ordering her to proceed to Helen Reef to assist the USCG-manned U.S. Army supply vessel FS-151 that had grounded. Upon her arrival, French assumed direction of the rescue operation as the senior ship present and became a temporary freighter, receiving 25 tons of cargo from the stricken vessel in an effort to lighten her off of the reef. These efforts proved successful and French was underway for Morotai on 26 July in company with HMAS Inverell and the auxiliary tug ATA-176, with FS-151 riding astern to a tow line. The little procession reached Morotai the following day, where French discharged her cargo and disembarked her passengers. Underway for Hollandia, New Guinea, in company with ATA-176, again towing FS-151, the ships arrived on 31 July and French pushed on for Peleliu the next afternoon.
At that juncture, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35), having delivered components of the world’s first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian on 26 July 1945, reported to Commander-In-Chief, Pacific (CinCPac) Headquarters at Guam for further orders. Directed to join the battleship Idaho (BB-42) in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan, Indianapolis, unescorted, departed Guam on a course of 262 degrees making about 17 knots. Less than a quarter of an hour into the mid watch on 30 July, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, she was hit by two torpedoes out of six fired by the Japanese submarine I-58 (Lt. Cmdr. Hashimoto Mochitsura). The first tore away her bow and the second struck nearly amidships on the starboard side adjacent to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within minutes, she went down rapidly by the bow, rolling to starboard.
Ordered to participate in the search for survivors, French got underway on 4 August 1945, and in company with the destroyer Madison (DD-425) and Alvin C. Cockrell, searched along the Guam-Leyte track. Their grim quest continued over the next two days with additional assistance from Cecil J. Doyle. On 6 August, the search vessels came upon a grisly scene as they entered waters strewn with wreckage. French recovered a total of 29 bodies that day and the next (6-7 August), and utilized 78 rounds of 5-inch/38 caliber AAC and 7 rounds of 5-inch/38 caliber illuminating projectiles to weight the remains, only 11 of whom could be identified, for burial at sea, with Lt. Cmdr. Robbins performing the services.
On 26 August 1945, French arrived at Okinawa and then, following the Japanese surrender [2 September] sailed to cover landings at Wakayama, Japan, on 9 September. She steamed to Guam to escort ships bringing occupation troops to Japan, then screened carriers flying patrols over Japan, work punctuated by maintenance in the floating dry dock ARD-25 (22-23 November 1945), for an inspection of the hull, underwater fittings, and screws in Yokosuka Ko, Honshu.
Eventually, on 2 January 1946, French sailed, with one USN officer passenger and eight enlisted men, for the west coast, clearing Wakayama on that date. Proceeding via Eniwetok (8-9 January) and Pearl Harbor (14-16 January), French stood in to San Francisco Bay on 22 January, disembarking the eight officer passengers and 22 enlisted men she had transported from Pearl. She shifted to Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif., on 28 January, assisted by the big harbor tug Nepanet (YTB-189), off-loading ammunition there, then moving to San Francisco Naval Shipyard later the same day, assisted by Uncas (YTB-242) and Numa (YTB-399). After a drydocking (6-19 March), French took departure for San Diego, Calif., on 10 April, and arrived there the following day, and reported to the Commander San Diego Group, 19th Fleet, for duty on 12 April.
French was decommissioned and placed in reserve at the U.S. Naval Repair Base, San Diego, Calif. on 29 May 1946, with her crew being transferred en masse to sister ship McGinty (DE-365) to complete French’s inactivation (26% completed by that juncture) by 1 August. Placed out of commission in reserve, in inactive status, on 14 January 1947, the ship was later put in the San Diego Group of the Reserve Fleet on 29 October 1949. Transferred to the San Francisco Group on 17 October 1957, she was moved from the Stockton Division to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Vallejo, Calif., five days after Christmas of 1966 [29 December 1966].
Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, along with four other destroyer escorts, on 15 May 1972, ex-French, along with ex-Edmonds (DE-406), was sold for scrap on 20 September 1973 to General Metals of Tacoma Inc. for $90, 421.88. Custody transfer occurred on 28 September.
Commanding Officers Date Assumed Command
Lt. Cmdr. Thomas K. Dunstan, (D) USNR 9 October 1944
Lt. Cmdr. Reginald C. Robbins, Jr., (D) USNR 9 December 1944
Lt. Cmdr. Everett M. Glenn 18 November 1945
Lt. (j.g.) John H. Crahan, (D-R) USNR 27 February 1946
Cmdr. Eugene H. Maher, (DE) USNR 4 April 1946 (temporary)
Lt. (j.g.) John H. Crahan, (D-R) USNR 11 April 1946
Cmdr. James R. Grey 30 April 1946
Paul J. Marcello
5 October 2016