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SAN DIEGO - The U.S. Navy held a decommissioning ceremony for amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego April 14.
The ceremony highlighted the history of the ship, its crew, and their legacy. Bonhomme Richard was the third ship to bear the name. It was named in honor of John Paul Jones' famous frigate, named the French equivalent for "Good man Richard." This was in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. Ambassador to France at the time. The name Bonhomme Richard is derived from Franklin's pen name.
"[The original Bonhomme Richard] Sailors gave their all to prevail against seemingly impossible odds, and they won." said Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3. "They taught us that you don't always save the ship, but you never stop fighting. The reputation of that fighting spirit began to proceed our Navy wherever we sailed and that same spirit persists today."
Like the previous five Wasp-class ships, Bonhomme Richard was designed to embark, deploy, and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious assault operations by helicopter, landing craft, or amphibious vehicles.
Throughout its history, Bonhomme Richard projected power and maintained presence by serving as the cornerstone of Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG) or Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESG). It transported and landed elements of the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) or Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) with a combination of aircraft and landing craft.
Not long after commissioning, the ship was called to action for Operation Stabilize in February 2000, providing peacekeeping and humanitarian operations of the coast of East Timor. This made Bonhomme Richard the first U.S. Navy ship to make a Western Pacific deployment in the 2000s.
Bonhomme Richard's following deployment put it in the spotlight of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ship offloaded more than a thousand Marines and their equipment from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines into Kuwait. After delivering attack and transport helicopters, as well as troops and vehicles, Bonhomme Richard took position just miles off the coast of Kuwait to launch AV-8B Harrier aircraft into Iraq. From the deck of Bonhomme Richard, Marine Attack Squadrons (VMA) 211 and 311 flew missions into Iraq and expended more than 175,000 pounds of ordnance and provided close air support to Marines on the ground. In total, the ship launched more than 800 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. More than 500 of those were combat launches.
On April 23, 2012, Bonhomme Richard replaced USS Essex (LHD 2) as the ESG Strike Group 7 command ship and switched homeports from San Diego to Sasebo, Japan. After six years as the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy amphibious operations in the forward-deployed naval forces, Bonhomme Richard returned to San Diego in May 2018 in a homeport change.
As the crew prepared the ship for decommissioning, members of the team slowly began transferring to new commands across the fleet, leaving a minimal-sized crew aboard for the decommissioning ceremony.
"As BHR [Bonhomme Richard] Sailors disperse throughout the fleet, take the teamwork, spirit, and unity to your next command," said Capt. Gregory S. Thoroman, Bonhomme Richard's commanding officer. "For this crew and what we experienced together is the embodiment of our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. The resiliency I saw—man or woman, seaman and up to our highest ranks, united in our common cause and strength to depend on each other—lived up to my motto of train to fight and fight to win. It has been my honor and absolute privilege to serve as your commanding officer."
In parting words to his crew, Thoroman left them with some counsel for their futures in the Navy. "If I can leave you with any advice moving forward it is to be true to yourselves, own it and earn it every single day," Thoroman said. "There is always something you can do to make your command better. Seek it out. Find it and do it."
Following its decommissioning, Bonhomme Richard will be towed to International Shipbreaking Limited, LLC's facility in Brownsville, Texas for dismantlement.