With the tragic explosion and casualties to the naval personnel on the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego in July, 2020, it is worthwhile to examine the history of the three U.S. Navy ships that have carried that name.
The original Bonhomme Richard was a converted merchant vessel (as were most warships of the Continental Navy), and was commanded by one of the “Fathers of the U.S. Navy," John Paul Jones. He named the frigate, Bonhomme Richard, which is French for “Good Man Richard,” to honor Benjamin Franklin, who at the time was U.S. Ambassador to France. “Richard” was a pseudonym used by Franklin when he published Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Original Bonhomme Richard
The Bonhomme Richard, under Jones, fought in one of the more famous naval battles of the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Flamborough Head, off the British coast on September 23, 1779. It was in this battle that John Paul Jones supposedly exclaimed “I have not yet begun to fight!”
Unfortunately, this first iteration of the Bonhomme Richard sustained such severe damage from the larger British ships that it had to be abandoned by Jones and the crew. The ship sank, but as it did so, it entered into legend and American naval history.
The second Bonhomme Richard was the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31) and was an Essex-class aircraft carrier launched and commissioned in late 1944 during World War Two. Interesting fact: At her launching, the ship was launched by the wife of Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. She was the grandmother of Captain (and later Senator) John McCain, who ran for President in 2008.
This ship served in World War Two in the Pacific and also in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. Interesting fact: During the Vietnam War, the Bon Homme Richard served as the flagship for Admiral George Stephen Morrison, who was the father of Jim Morrison, the famous singer of the rock band, the Doors.
The current version of the Bonhomme Richard is the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, which is similar to a small aircraft carrier, and usually transports U.S. Marines overseas. The major role of this type of ship is to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious assault operations by helicopter, landing craft and amphibious vehicle, and if needed, to act as a light aircraft carrier.
This ship was launched in 1997 and commissioned in 1998. She took part in operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 and 2004, the USS Bonhomme Richard participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the war against Saddam Hussein.
The explosion on board the ship while in dock at San Diego occurred on July 12, 2020, over 60 casualties. The fires were extinguished after four difficult days, and the Navy is taking a hard look at whether the ship can be repaired, or if it should be scrapped. The implications of losing this ship, even temporarily, are significant, given the ongoing tensions between the United States and several southeast Asian allies, and the growing military presence of China in the South China Sea.