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Associated Press

RADM Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Three, and Capt G S Thoroman, CO of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, salute the ensign for colors during a decommissioning ceremony at Naval Base San Diego 14 April 2021. (MC2 Alex Millar/U.S. Navy via AP)

SAN DIEGO — The US Navy on Wednesday decommissioned the USS Bonhomme Richard docked off San Diego nine months after flames engulfed it in one of the worst US warship fires outside of combat in recent memory.

The ceremony at Naval Base San Diego was not open to the public, with the Navy citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The amphibious assault ship is expected to be towed to a ship yard in Texas for dismantling.

The ship that ignited 12 July 2020 burned for four days

Sailors combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on 13 July 2020 in San Diego. (MC3 Hector Carrera/Navy)

and was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage. A Navy official said arson was believed to be the cause.

The Navy estimated that repairing the ship would run more than $2.5 billion. Dismantling the ship is expected to cost about $30 million.



MSD Background and a Little American Levity on a Sombre Occasion
According to open sources, here is a little history of the five ships of the United States Navy that bore the name Bonhomme Richard or Bon Homme Richard – but not Bon Hommerichard:

  1. USS Bonhomme Richard (1765), formerly Duc de Duras, was a frigate built in France and placed at the disposal of John Paul Jones in 1779.
  2. A Bon Homme Richard was to have been a Wampanoag-class cruiser built at the Washington Navy Yard. Construction was cancelled in 1864.
  3. USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-10), was renamed Yorktown prior to launch.
  4. USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31), was an Essex-class aircraft carrier that saw action at the end of World War II, throughout the Korean War, and through the Vietnam War.
  5. USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship that was severely damaged by fire in July 2020, and decommissioned.

But who is “Richard”?
Likely not to be taught in US schools any longer, Bon Homme Richard – is the loose French translation of Poor Richard’s Almanack, an almanac published by one of the US founders, Benjamin Franklin. As an inventor, statesman, and publisher, Franklin was successful with the once very popular annual publication.  Because the ship for which it was first named was of French origin, it is likely the reason the Bonhomme Richard was so named after being recommissioned from the Duc de Duras – the “Duke of Duras”. What? No, his name was not “Richard” – he was a Jacques Henri de Durfort, or Jacob (or James!) Henry.

Again, who is “Richard”?
O.K.! Franklin – for reason clear only to him and a few close others seated around a bottle corn mash with him – used the pseudonym of “Poor Richard” while producing the yearly volumes from 1732 to 1758 with print runs reaching 10,000 per annum – as a popular “pamphlet”, to which soft cover books were referred.

Photo credit: TBD

The American colonists* immensely enjoyed Almanacks because of the variety of content to keep them entertained and informed.

Print Still Rules
One could find a robust collection of: seasonal weather forecasts that assisted in planting crops and planning excusions and journeys; household tips of immense utility to householders and indentured servants; mind-bending puzzles for those who didn’t mind having their minds bent; humorous stories for those who listened to local quartets scratch out a Humoresque or two on fiddle, flute, box drum and banjo; and other items to amuse the collectively bored colonists*.

Much of the witty phrases and idioms still bandied about in modern USA have their roots in Poor Richard’s Almanac, where they are likely to have appeared for the first time. It is rumoured that, in those days, the humorous tales and jokes were of such a rich and enduring quality that the near-thunderous crack of knees being slapped by laughing readers everywhere at once was almost deafening in the towns and villages where the Almanack was popular.

Both ship and magazine served the nation well. The magazine, a symbol of liberty and the ship of that magazine’s name symbolises the defence of the liberty.  The liberty to imagine, create, publish, read and enjoy said magazine in the fullest flush of spirit and intellect.

Hence, I can understand no other reason than this for being why the US Continental Congress and succeeding institutions would chose to name a warship after this fine magazine. “Good man, Richard!”

*Later to be known as “Early Americas”