French Arnold Finnell was born in Bradley County, Tennessee on January 22, 1921. He was the son of Oscar Edward and Rose B. Sandidge Finnell. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941. After he completed his training at Norfolk, Virginia, he was sent to the Pacific where he was assigned to the gun crew of the USS Vincennes, a heavy cruiser. French died on August 9, 1942 in the battle of Savo Island in the area of the Pacific known as Slot. His parents were notified that French was missing in action. On September 14, 1942, they were officially notified that he had died and gone down with the ship.
A report of the battle indicates that the gun French was manning took a direct hit. His ship sank, along with the USS Quincy and the USS Astoria, as well as the HMAS Canberra, a cruiser of the Australian Navy. The battle is know as the worst defeat in the history of the U.S. Navy. Along with sinking of the ships listed above, the USS Patterson, the USS Bagley, and the USS Chicago were extensively damaged but did not sink.
French’s parents received a memorial citation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which reads in part: “In Grateful Memory of French Arnold Finnell–who died in service of his country–He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it he lives–in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”
We believe that he was the first service man from Bradley County to lose his life in World War II. His name is engraved on a memorial stone in the U.S. Military Cemetery in Manila, the Phillipines, and on the World War II memorial on the lawn of the Bradley County Courthouse in Cleveland.
-Submitted by JoAnn Garren Finnell