LCDR John Edmund French,

Unknown Sailor

LCDR John Edmund French

John Edmund French was a 1922 graduate of the Naval Academy, where the yearbook noted “Eddie’s success with ladies, judged by the volume of mail he received. However, it also said that he remained true to the “only one” back in “God’s country.” ” 

That, apparently, was a reference to Marian Falkenstein, whom he married in 1925. Her father was a Navy captain.

Mr. French served on many vessels during his naval career and taught at the Naval Academy. He was a lieutenant commander in charge of navigation on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

Mr. French was born March 6, 1900 in Durham in southwestern Maine, the only son of George E. French, a railroad postal clerk, and Alma Crosman French, a homemaker. They moved almost 70 miles north-northeast to Skowhegan, Maine when he was a child. He graduated from Skowhegan High in 1917 and attended Bowdoin College near Durham for a year before entering the Naval Academy.

About a week after the Japanese attack, Lt. Commander Samuel Fuqua, one of the few officers who survived and senior among them, borrowed a diver’s helmet and gear to enter the submerged battleship to look for the body of Mr. French, who had a stateroom across from his two decks below the rear turrets. He found the remains floating under a mattress. Off duty, Mr. French had slept in the Sunday morning of the surprise attack.

In 1947, after the war had ended, Mr. French’s body was returned to the mainland and buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside that of his wife, who died in 1945. They were survived by their son, Donald.

Mr. Fuqua was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism on Dec. 7. He was on the quarterdeck when a bomb hit and knocked him unconscious. When he came to, a second more powerful explosion raised the ship from the water and enveloped its forward part in flames. “Wounded and burned men were pouring out the ship to the quarterdeck,” the Medal of Honor citation reads. “Despite these conditions, his harrowing experience, and severe enemy bombing and strafing, at the time, Lieutenant Commander Fuqua continued to direct the fighting of fires in order to check them while the wounded could be taken from the ship and supervised the rescue of these men in such an amazingly calm and cool manner and with such excellent judgment, that it inspired everyone who saw him and undoubtedly resulted in the saving of many lives.” He stayed on the ship until he realized she could not be saved.


Sources: the Portland (Maine) Press Herald; “Battleship Arizona, An Illustrated History,” by Paul Stillwell; 1922 “Lucky Bag,” the Naval Academy yearbook; Census; New York marriage license; Congressional Medal of Honor. Lucky Bag photograph. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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