The USS Bonhomme Richard is named for a French translation of Benjamin Franklin's nom de plume, "Poor Richard." When John Paul Jones received the ship “Duc de Duras” from the King of France, Louis XVI, he renamed the former French East Indiaman “Bonhomme Richard” to honor Franklin, the American Commissioner at Paris whose famous almanacs had been published in France under the title: Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard. Having a US ship named to honor Benjamin Franklin using a French translation is very fitting. Benjamin Franklin was known as "The First American" for his early and constant campaigning for colonial unity. He was a notable American author, publisher, inventor and statesman (spokesman in London for several colonies, the first United States Ambassador to France).
1st USS Bonhomme Richard
The first Bonhomme Richard was built in 1766 under the name Duc de Duras and, in early 1779, placed at the disposal of Capt. John Paul Jones for operations against the British.
After selecting officers, recruiting, arming the vessel as a frigate, and preparing her for sea, Jones got the Bonhomme Richard and supporting ships underway from L'Orient, France on 19 June 1779. During the initial cruise, several British men-of-war approached the allied squadron, but all quickly withdrew when they realized the strength of Jones' force. The rest of that year John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard disrupted the sea lanes around the British Isles and took many “prizes”.
The Bonhomme Richard met her end on 25 September 1779. On 24 September, propelled by a light breeze, Jones' ships slowly moved north until early afternoon when a stillness descended almost becalming the squadron. About 3:00 p.m., a lookout shouted down from Bonhomme Richard's rigging to inform Commodore Jones that a large group of ships were approaching from the north. Jones, guided by information he had received from captured pilots, concluded that the vessels belonged to a 41-ship convoy coming from the Baltic under the protection of the British frigate Serapis and the sloop-of-war Countess of Scarborough. Eager to take some prizes, the commodore bent on maximum sail to close the enemy; but the wind was still so light that some three and a half hours passed before the adversaries reached striking distance.
At 6:30 p.m., Bonhomme Richard rounded Serapis' port quarter and, after an exchange of questions and answers between Jones and Pearson to establish identity, opened fire with a salvo from her starboard broadside guns. The English man-of-war answered immediately. Two of Bonhomme Richard's 18-pounders burst, killing many men, neutralizing the rest of her largest guns for fear that they too were unsafe, and doing substantial damage to the ship.
Realizing that he was outgunned by his more powerful and faster opponent, Jones reasoned that his only chance of victory lay in moving still closer to Serapis where he might take her by boarding or by having his sharpshooters pick off her men and officers. He was fortunate in colliding with the British frigate in such a way that her anchor fouled Bonhomme Richard's hull and held the two ships together. Jones then strengthened the bonds with grappling hooks.
A fierce, four-hour close-range fight ensued before Serapis finally struck her colors. Bonhomme Richard, shattered, on fire, and leaking badly defied all efforts to save her and sank at 1100 on 25 September 1779. Before she went down, Jones transferred his crew to the prize, Serapis, and sailed to Texel Roads, Holland. For more detailed history on the first USS Bonhomme Richard visit the Navy Archive page at http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b8/bonhomme_richard-i.htm.
2nd USS Bonhomme Richard
Another ship named Bon Homme Richard (a misspelling of Bonhomme Richard), a Wampanoag-class cruiser, was to have been built to raid British commerce had the British entered the Civil War on the South's behalf. The warship was begun in 1864, but tension between the United States and Great Britain subsided before the construction of her hull began, and the order for her construction was cancelled and she was never commissioned. That set the stage for the second Bonhonme Richard.
USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) is the second ship of the name despite the difference in spelling, an error which is attributed to the 1860s Wampanoag-class cruiser named Bon Homme Richard that was never completed. That misspelling was, no doubt, compounded by the haste associated with the great number of ships had to be named during World War II.
The second USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) was launched 29 April 1944 by New York Navy Yard; sponsored by Mrs. J. S. McCain, wife of Vice Admiral McCain; and commissioned 26 November 1944, with Captain A. O. Rule, Jr. as the first Commanding Officer.
Bon Homme Richard departed Norfolk 19 March 1945 to join the Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor 5 April 1945. She participated in the attacks on Okino Daito Jima and then served with the 3rd Fleet during the air strikes against Japan (2 July-15 August). She then steamed to Pearl Harbor to undergo conversion for troop transport duty. From 8 November 1945 to 16 January 1946 she made trans-Pacific voyages, returning servicemen to the United States.
USS Bon Homme Richard joined TF 77 off Korea on 29 May 1951 and launched her first air strikes 31 May. Bon Homme Richard continued operations during the Korean conflict taking part in the heavy strikes against the North Korean power complex and the amphibious feint at Kojo until December 1952.
Bon Homme Richard received one battle star for her World War II service and five battle stars for participation in the Korean conflict.
The USS Bon Homme Richard went out of commission 15 May 1953 preparatory to modernization. When recommissioned 6 September 1955, she had an angled and strengthened flight deck, enclosed bow, enlarged elevators, and steam catapults. She completed her conversion period 31 October 1955 and continued to serve with the Pacific Fleet until being decommissioned on 2 July 1971.
For more detailed history on the second USS Bon Homme Richard visit the Navy Archive page at: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b8/bon-homme-richard-ii.htm.