In July 2021, the U.S. Navy Wasp-class assault ship, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) was destroyed by a devastating fire while at berth in her homeport at San Diego, California. The suspicious fire burned within the ship for some six days and proved to be the end for this proud ship’s 22 years of service to the United States Navy and Marine Corps. She was so heavily damaged by the fire that the cost and time needed to repair her in years was too much and the Navy decided to decommission her and she has been ultimately towed to Brownsville, Texas to be scrapped.
But there is more to her story.
The noble USS Bonhomme Richard had one more very valuable service to give to the Navy and this task was undertaken at sea, while she was being towed to the scrapyards. The Navy conducted an extensive battle damage repairs exercise on her as she was on her final mission through the Gulf of Mexico.
This exercise produced extremely valuable experiences for the front line damage control crews and what they learned and practiced will be very important knowledge for possible future events.
The exercise was undertaken this past summer some 300 miles from her final destination. It involved the entire spectrum of first responder, battle damage repair teams. This included operational forces, mobile diving and salvage personnel and divers. These damage repair teams’ jobs are to contain the damage as much as possible at sea, to stabilize the vessel, and to ensure that it can make it back to one of the U.S. Navy’s regional repair centers or public shipyards for more extensive repairs.
During this important and valuable exercise, the repair teams were able to cut metal, flood spaces, de-water spaces and repair holes in very realistic circumstances. We can only imagine what it must have been like for those Navy repair team members to be involved with this exercise at sea. They were undertaking and learning and practicing very valuable skills that can be taught to all such teams on all of the Navy’s ships that can be useful in both peacetime and battle environments. All of this was important.
But it must have been an honor to be among those repair teams who took part in this exercise. There was much to learn in practical terms, but one can imagine that there must have been some deeper emotional responses to be doing this on the burnt out hulk of that once noble and proud ship.
This ship was the 5th to bear that name. The first of that name was captained by the famous John Paul Jones. That ship was a former French armed transport ship called the Duc de Duras. It was sold to the fledgling U.S. Navy in 1779 and renamed the Bonhomme Richard (Good Man Richard) in honor of Benjamin Franklin, as that was his French nickname. Franklin had spent much time in Paris as an ambassador and was much loved by the French. This last iteration was as a multi-purpose, US. Navy assault ship built to bring Marine Expeditionary Units wherever needed.
The USS Bonhomme Richard will be remembered fondly and dearly missed by both the United States Navy and the Marines who served on her over her 22 years of service.
Learn more in the video below.