USS BON HOMME RICHARD ends her proud history today- a history that encompasses three wars and has earned her many notable achievements- among these are being credited with having the largest number of MIG kills (17) of any carrier, first carrier to be a Vietnam War "Ace Carrier" and first carrier to complete six Vietnam deployments. Surely, this proud ship has justly earned the title "Biggest Deck in WestPac."
Reprinted from the Decommissioning Ceremony Program, 2 July 1971
The Last CVA
By Lt. Pete Clayton, USN
From The Tailhook Winter Issue 1998
World War Two
Only one aircraft carrier in naval history has the distinction of serving in three wars as an attack carrier, and that is the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31). Bonnie Dick, as she affectionately became known, joined Task Force 38 in time to fly strikes against the Japanese home islands at the end of World War 11, made two cruises to the Far East
during the Korean War and finished her proud career with six combat deployments to Vietnam.
In logging a total of fifteen overseas deployments during her twenty-six years career, she operated aircraft as varied as Helicats and Avengers to Crusaders and Skyhawks..
Combining her Korean and Vietnam box scores, her planes shot down more MIGs than any other carrier.
She was the fourteenth Essex carriers and the last of these famous sisters to be completed in time for service in World War 11.
Built by the New York Navy Yard, she was authorized by Congress 9 July 1942 and her name assigned 25 Feb. 1943.
Laid down 1 Feb. 1943, she was launched 29 Apl 1944, sponsored by Mrs.John S. McCain, wife of Vice Admiral John S. McCain, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) Bon Homme Richard was commissioned at the Brooklyn NavyYard 26 Nov. 1944 under the command of Captain A.0. Rule,Jr. USN.
Her original armament was twelve 5-inch 38 cal guns, ten 40mm quadruple mounts, and numerous 20 mm installations.
Upon completion of fitting out at the Navy Yard, and running the degaussing and deperming range at Bayonne, She proceeded to Norfolk where she reported to ComAirLant and ComFairNorfolk on 14 Jan. 1945.
Training exercises were conducted in the Chesapeake Bay and vicinity with Carrier Air Group Sixteen and, following an "On Reporting Inspection" on 22 Jan. 1945, the ship departed Norfolk the next day for a shakedown cruise to the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad, B.W.I.
Shakedown operations were successful with no personnel causalities. The performance of CVG-16, which was reformed from the original CAG- 16 and consisted of approximately 40% combat experienced personnel, was outstanding. Flight operations soon reached efficiency with CVs operating in the combat zone.
The ship returned to the Bayonne Navy Yard via Norfolk for post shakedown availability, arriving 3 March 1945, and on 19 March, with CVG-16 embarked, was underway for the Panama Canal.
Transiting the canal without incident, Bon Homme Richard was ordered to San Diego to load additional aircraft and personnel for transportation to Pearl Harbor.
This operation was completed in a day and a half and on 1 April the ship departed San Diego, arriving at Pearl four days later.
From 6 April to 22 May Bonnie Dick conducted training exercises in the Hawaiian area with CVG-16, CVG(N)-91, CVG-88 and CVG-2 embarked for various periods.
During this period the ship had seven additional 40 mm quad guns installed.
CVG-16 was detached from the ship 5 May and ordered to proceed to Saipan, and on 21 May CVG(N)-91 reported aboard.
With the assignment of this Night Air Group the ship became a CV(N) shortly after the USS Enterprise (then the only night carrier with the fast carrier task force), was damaged during operations in support of the Okinawa campaign.
On 22 May 1945 CV(N)-31 departed Pearl Harbor for Ulithi, Carolina Islands,arriving 3 June.
Training operations were conducted en route and under ideal conditions, 379 night sorties and 113 day sorties were flown.
The Pacific Fleet's newest carrier joined Task Group 30.2 and proceeded on 4 June to rondezvous with Task Force 38 at sea.
Task Force 38 was just completing Okinawa operations and in the three remaining days USS Bon Homme Richard flew CAP and launched day and night strikes against Okino Daito Jima.
With Task Force 38 the ship proceeded to the new fleet anchorage at Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands, where she remained from 13-30 June.
This replenishment and rehabiltion period was interrupted by a four day cruise during which the ship conducted independent night flight operations Bon Homme Richard sortied from Leyte Gulf July 1 1945 for air strikes and surface bombardments of enemy installations on Hokkaido, Honshu and Shikaku in the Japanese home islands.
During the period of operations with the Third Fleet she sustained no damage from enemy action.
The ship's guns open fired on enemy aircraft only on one occasion, 9 Aug. 1945, when a Japanese Grace attacked the force and was shot down by the CAP.
CVG(N)-91 accounted for a total of ten enemy aircraft, which included two probables.
The outstanding individual score was that of Ens. P.T. MacDonald, VF(N)-91, who while on a dusk CAP on 13 Aug., shot down three planes and two probables.
With the cessation of hostilities on 15 Aug., planes from the carrier:flew no offensive strikes, but were launched purely as a defensive measure.
Negotiations were underway for the Japanese surrender and all fleet units were ordered to engage only in passive measures.
From 3 1 Aug. through 15 Sept. 1945 the ship operated off the south and East Coast of Honshu, flying CAP airfield reconnaissance flights, prisoner of war camp reconnaissance flights and supply drops missions to prisoner of war.
Following the formal surrender on 2 Sept., Bonnie Dick entered Tokyo Bay on the 16th and dropped anchor after being continuously underway for seventy-eight eventful days.
On 19 Sept, Commander Task Force 38 with units assigned reported to Commander Fifth Fleet for duty. Bon Homme Richard thereby became a unit of Task Force 58.
On 21 Sept. the Bon Homme Richard sortied from Tokyo Bay for five day training period in Sagami Wan returning briefly to Tokyo Bay before she was again underway on the 27th for Apra Harbor, Guam, arriving the 30th.
CVG(N)-52 teamed with CVG(N)-91 aboard and exercises were conducted through 4 Oct. when the ship loaded passengers for the United States.
Early in the morning of the 5th of Oct. she departed Apra Harbor. A rendezvous was made with other units of Task Unit 58 and a course was set for Point Frisco off the coast of Honshu. Joining Task Group 58.1, she turned toward San Francisco.
En route to the United States, Task Group 58.1 was designated Task Group 38.1.
At 0955 on 20th Oct. escorted by her air group planes and those from USS Yorktown, USS Bon Homme Richard passed under the Golden Gate Bridge after nearly seven months away from the shores of the United States.
The USS Bon Homme Richard left San Francisco 29 Oct. and proceeded to Pearl Harbor for conversion to troop transport duty. Air Group 91 and 52 were embarked after leaving San Francisco Bay.
Upon completion of modification at Pearl Harbor, she detached from the Third Fleet and reported to Commander Service Fleet (Pacific) for Magic Carpet duty as a unit of Task Group 16.12.
Between 8 Nov. 1945 and 16 Jan. 1946, Bonnie Dick made two trips back to the Far East bringing 7,817 troops home for separation.
Upon being relieved from her Magic Carpet duties, Bonnie Dick returned to Puget Sound where she was decommissioned 9 Jan. 1947.
She was placed into the 19th Reserve Fleet berthed at Bremerton along with five sisters: USS Essex CV-9, USS Yorktown CV-10, USS Ticonderoga CV-14, USS Lexington CV-16, USS Bunker Hill CV-17.
The Korean War
Shortly after the Communist invaded South Korea in June 1950, Bon Homme was taken out of the Reserve Fleet for reactivation at Puget Sound.
She was recommissioned as CV-31, with keynote address given by CNO Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, on 15 Jan. 1951 under the command of Capt. Cecil B.Gill USN.
Immediately commencing a thirty day yard availability, underway acceptance test followed, and she moved to Bangor, Washington to load ammunition.
Departing the Northwest on 23 Feb. 1951 for NAS Alameda, Bon Homme Richard arrived three days later and commenced underway training on 5 March.
While at sea on 15 March 1951, the carrier recovered her first aircraft since recommissioning, a AD-4Q flown by her new CAG, Cdr. Harold N. Funk, Commander CVG-102.
Fifteen days later the 1,000th aircraft landed on her flight deck, an F9F-2 flown by Lt. Phillip of VF-781.
Training was completed by 6 of April and she returned to Puget Sound for post-shakedown repairs, returning to the San Diego area 6 May.
Moored at NAS North Island, she commenced loading CVG-102 planes from VF-781 (F9F-2), VF-783 (F4U-4), VF-874 (F4U-4), VA-923 (AD-2), VC-3 (F4U-5NL), VC-11 (AD-4W), VC-35 (AD-4N) and VC-61 (F9F-2P) and two helicopters of HU-1 (HO3S-1).
CVG-102's fighter and attack squadrons were recalled reserve units gathered from several reserve bases across the nation.
Departing San Diego 10 May, Bon Homme Richard steamed at 22 knots to reach Pear Harbor four days later and report to ComFairHawaii for final flight operations training prior to combat.
Flight ops continued trough 18 May including night launches in preparation for heckler attacks with Task Group 77 in Korea.
On 18 May 1951, Bonnie Dick moored at NAS Ford Island, and three days later was underway for Japan, her recent enemy, but now a respected friend and treasured liberty port.
On 28 May she was diverted from Yokosuka and, after launching sixteen pool F4Us for NAS AtsugL proceeded to the action area.
Passing through the Van Dieman Strait, she entered the East China Sea on 29 May, and the following day joined Task Force 77, which included the USS Philippine Sea CV-47 and the USS Boxer CV-21, near the 39th Parallel where the Communist and US Forces were locked in hand-to-hand combat.
After receiving three VR-21 TBM-3Rs for COD work, she relieved Philippine Sea off the East Coast of Korea.
At 1501, 31 May 1951, Bonnie Dick launched four F9F-2 Panthers for her first strike at the enemy in the Korean War.
The armed reconnaissance group covered the highways and railroads from Wonsan to Singhing, killing I 00 enemy troops and destroying seven oxcarts.
They also assisted in naval gunfire support on the village of Andori where Communist troops were being housed.
One plane was lost on the launch, but the pilot was recovered. Bonnie Dick's F4U's and AD's flew armed reconnaissance and provided close air support for UN troops north of Hwachow, dropping napalm and strafing a ridge held by the Reds.
For the next seventeen days planes of the Bon Homme Richard ranged over North Korea hitting rail and highways, bridges truck convoys, trench and mortar positions, as well as warehouses and troop barracks.
Her aircraft also spotted for the USS New Jersey BB-62.
She was joined 3 June by the USS Princeton CV-37, her relief on station.
The ship's planes reached their peak of performance in this initial part of her Korean combat duty on 6 Jun when 149 offensive sorties and 11 defensive sorties were flown from her decks.
Mooring in Sasebo, Japan from 18-30 June, Bonnie Dick then returned to the task force.
Fogging weather constantly hampered operations, but her planes were grounded for only three days.
Principal targets were boats, boxcars, highways, supply dumps, factories, barracks and gun emplacements in the Wonsan-Songin area.
Bon Homme departed TF-77 on 28th July mooring two days later at Yokosuka.
For the first two months off Korea Bon Homme Richard aircraft made 1,433 offensive and 1,306 defense sorties.
The price was high in this second tour of duty, as nine aircraft were lost, three pilots killed, three injured, and one listed as missing in action.
On 6 July, 135 offensive sorties were flown against Wonsan, the most single day offensive sorties since her arrival.
On the 17th the pilot of an F4U ditched in Wosan harbor and was picked up by a destroyer.
On 24 Aug. her planes moved north to the Yalu River to cooperate with USAF bombers hitting targets at Rashin and Najiin.
The planes also concentrated on the bridges north of Chongjin Again, Bonnie Dick's airmen paid their dues, during this third tour eleven planes were lost with three pilots killed and four injured.
Returning to Yokosuka 7 Sept., Bon Romme remained only ten days for upkeep, repairs and rest before departing for twenty-nine days of duty with TF-77, which now included the USS Boxer and Essex.
Between 19 Sept. and 18 Oct. 1951 a total of 1,119 offensive and 299 defensive sorties were flown against the Communist.
Much emphasis was placed on cutting rail lines, destroying marshalling yards and rolling raidroad equipment to slow down the supplies from Manchuria to the front lines.
The targets were mostly in the Hungnam, Paegan-Dan, Wonsan, Onyand-Ni, Kowan, Yangdok and Tangchong areas.
On 9 Oct. 1951 the Skyraiders and Corsairs of CVG-102 engaged in coordinated attacks on a vital mining center some 35 miles from Songjin.
The fighters rolled out of the sun to hit defending AA emplacements followed by dive-bombers, planting 2,000 lb. bombs and napalm on the enemy mining camps and troop centers, decimating the ore plants and destroying or damaging thirty-one buildings in the center.
Some 4,600 runs were made on targets during the twenty-nine days, effectively cutting the Communist railroad lines many times.
During the fourth tour six planes were lost due to enemy action, but only one pilot was not rescued.
Nine days after the Bon Homme Richard's arrival in Yokosuka on 20 Oct. 1951, she was back at sea with the task force for a 30-day line period, her longest tour of the cruise.
No special targets were assigned to the pilots, and they continued the usual mayhem they had caused in the past flying a total of 924 offensive and 298 defensive sorties from the carrier.
Eight aircraft failed to return to the ship however, three crashed due to AA gunfire, one was shot up and landed at a field ashore, with the others lost to mechanical trouble.
Enemy ground fire and one by enemy aircraft fire damaged forty-one aircraft.
During this 31 Oct. - 30 Nov. combat period, Bonnie Dick's pilots came into contact for the first time with the Russia built MiG-15.
On 27 Nov. several Skyraiders and Corsairs, which were flying protective cover over a pilot from the USS Essex, who had crashed in North Korea, were jumped by MiG-15s.
The battle was inconclusive as no definite kills were made.
One AD was damaged but returned safely to the carrier.
On this fifth and final tour, casualties were two missing in action, six injured (pilots), one crewman believed washed over the side, and one enlisted man killed in an accident on deck.
Returning to San Diego 17 Dec., she remained through the holidays, then journeyed to Bremerton for overhaul.
This was followed by a return to San Diego for more training in preparation for a second tour of duty off Korea.
Standing out of San Diego 20 May 1952, with CVG-7 embarked, Bon Homme Richard stopped at Pearl Harbor and Yokosuka before joining Task Force 77.
Taking her position in the fast carrier attack force on 23 June, preparations were begun immediately for a major strike at the heretofore politically protected North Korean hydroelectric power plants.
An early morning attack had to be cancelled because of excessive cloud coverage over the target but by afternoon, sufficient wind had come up to move the cover and expose the power plants.
Bonnie Dick's aircraft joined with those of those of the USS Boxer, Philippine Sea and USS Princeton along with USAF bombers to hit the Kyosan #2 Hydroelectric plant some 30 miles northwest of Hamhung.
Nine AD-4's (VA-75), nine F4U's (VF-74) and eleven F9F-2's (VF-71 & VF-72) were launched for the strike.
Another strike of six ADs, six F4Us and seven F9F-2s eliminated Fusen #2 plant west of Kyosen.
The transformer yard and surrounding buildings were leveled and Fusen #2 was considered permanently out of commission.
The strike group encountered only meager inaccurate flak.
The following day CVG-7 aircraft hit the North Korean hydroelectric complex again, but this time they were directed against the Kyosen #4 plant.
Complete destruction was reported and afternoon flights hammered the railroad marshalling yard near Tanchon, damaging four railroad bridges.
Again no AA was encountered, probably due to falk suppression flights by VF-74 Corsairs.
Unfavorable weather closed in on the task force and on 26 June 1952, the ship was detached to proceed to Sasebo for duty as the "ready" carrier.
Back in action on 3 July, Bon Homme Richard aircraft once again struck at the North Korean hydroelectric power complex, hitting Kyosen #1 and #2.
For the next four days the carrier air strikes were aimed at transportation, supply warehouses and troop barracks in the Wonsan Valley.
On 8 July they hit Kyosen #2 once again, placing two 500- lb. bombs directly on the powerhouse and cutting four penstocks.
Seventeen rail cuts were also made.
After sinking six sampans in Wonsan Harbor and destroying three boxcars on a siding nearby, Bon Homme Richard replenished her stores, anununitions and fuel in preparations for the major event of the line period.
This strike was a combined-armed forces bombing of North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
Besides the Navy carrier-base aircraft, land-based Marine, and US Air Force as well as Australian Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft would appear over the target.
Numerous anti-aircraft guns surrounded the city, backed up by the automatic weapons positions. Bon Homme Richard aircraft and those of the USS Princeton were to suppress the flak units for the remainder of the strike group.
Carrier Air Group 7 carried out this mission and then proceed to hit the marshalling yards.
Early morning hecklers caught a long supply train in a tunnel on 26 July. Trapping it by the rails in front of the tunnel the group turned to cutting up the train, and when their ammunition ran out they called in a patrolling destroyer to finish the job.
The hydroelectric plant at Puryong #2 was next attacked with only one wall of the powerhouse left standing.
A strategic zinc and lead plant some 25 miles north of Tanchon was also heavily damaged.
Some 840 offensive and 671 defensive sorties were flown during the combat period however, Bonnie Dick was not yet given a weff-earned rest.
While en route to Yokosuka, she was suddenly called back to the task force to take the place of the USS Boxer which had been seriously damaged by a hanger deck fire.
Continuing to Yokosuka, she transferred ComCarDiv to USS Princeton and then raced back to the bomb line the same day.
Following a rendezvous and replenishment 9 Aug 1952, she launched her planes the following day against Hamhung, Pukchong and Sindok lead and zinc mines.
Foggy weather again settled around the task force on 15 Aug. and four days later Bonnie Dick was ordered to Yokosuka where she remained until 2 Sep. when she was again underway for TF-77 operations.
The next strike on 13 Sept was aimed at Hoeryong near the Manchurian border. Some 700 bombs were dropped on the supply facilities, transportation and industrial targets, along with bivouac areas.
Some uneasiness was felt when USS Helena CA-73 reported many bogies fifty miles east of the target. These were presumed to be the local Soviet air defense forces, however, no contact was made.
On 14 Sept. a jet reconnaissance flight discovered a 130-foot Communist naval vessel in the vicinity of Wonsan and sank her with rockets.
Teaming with USS Kearsarge CV-33 aircraft, Bon Homme Richard pilots hit Kejo #3 to disrupt any repairs which might have been made from previous raids.
The line period completed, Bon Homme transited to Yokosuka on 30 Sept. 1952.
As were all large aircraft carriers, she was reclassified CVA-31 denoting her status as an attack carrier, on 1 Oct.1952.
Returning to Task Force 77 on IO Oct, Bon Homme Richard's CVG-7 pilots commenced a new phase in air strikes.
The emphasis was against enemy front line positions and supply areas, and was primarily aimed at retarding the enemy's capability of launching a major offensive while the truce talks were in progress, which had been going on for sixteen months.
The high point of Bon Homme Richard's return to combat was her part in the "Kojo, Amphibious Feint." For four days commencing 12 Oct., CVG-7 aircraft blasted targets of military significance in the Wonsan-Kojo area.
One of the largest naval forces since World War 11 hanimered away at an area on a 25-niile arc about the beleaguered town of Kojo, suggesting an invasion.
However, on 16 Oct. after the assault boats were launched and had proceeded to a point some 1,000 yards offshore, they turned back to their mother ships, completing the feint.
With four CVAs (9,21,31 and 37) and two CVEs (USS Badoeing Strait and USS Sicily, with Marine pilots aboard) finishing an aerial umbrella and attacking force, the softening up for the amphibious assault was so intense that on 12 Oct. Navy pilots broke what was reported as their own all-time daily sorties record for the Korean War with a total of 700 flights.
After returning to Yokosuka 8 Nov. Bon Homme Richard departed the 21st to participate in joint exercise with the Air Force on 23 Nov.
She rejoined TF-77 with USS Essex and Kearsarge the following day. However, foul weather considerably hampered much of the:flight operation until 4 Dec. when the railroad around Songiin and the mining area near Hyesanjin were attacked.
Continued emphasis was made on disrupting the railroad network, since repairs would be difficult in the snow, which was swirling down from Siberia.
In an effort to smash the railroad repair facilities that the enemy had developed in the border area heretofore immune by attack restrictions, the planes of CVG-7 hit the yards near Musan.
The hydroelectric plants were given completely beyond repair, and that reconstruction would be halted.
Bonnie Dick detached from TF-77 18 Dec. and after a short stop at Yokosuka, was underway for the United States, arriving at Alameda 8 Jan. 1953.
After unloading her planes and ammunition, she moved to San Francisco on 3 March.
She was decommissioned 15 May 1953 at Hunter's Point to begin a major modernization program.
For her participation in the strikes against the North Korean hydroelectric power complex and other operations during deployment, Bon Homme Richard and CVG-7 received the Navy Unit Commendation.
Conversion, The Late Fifties And The Viet-Nam War
USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 was one of three ESSEX class conversions under the SCB-27C program to be accomplished in only one shipyard availability. USS Shangri-La CVA-38 and USS Lexington CVA-16 were the other two.
(SCB-27C stood for Ship's Characterization Board 27C, hence the 27-Charlie label used in the fleet USS Intrepid CVA-11, USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 and USS Hancock CVA-19 were the three 27-Charlies whose modernization were accomplished in two separate yard availability's, their angled deck and hurricane bows being added subsequent to an earlier steam catapult installation and hull modernization. Bon Homme's alterations were extensive.
The SCB-27C package included:
1. Two C-11 Mod-1 steam catapults.
2. Angled flight deck (10 degrees) including four new Mk7 Mod1 arresting gear engines.
3. Hurricane bow with secondary conning station.
4. Redesigned island structure, including a enlarge and relocated primary flight control station.
5. Increase beam to 103 feet, from one additional torpedo void, protection layer.
(providing buoyancy to offset the large displacement growth).
6. Hanger deck fire division doors.
7. Aircrew escalator from main deck to the flight deck.
8.40 mm battery replaced by five 5 inch-50 cal twin mounts.
9. 5-inch battery reduced from twelve to eight barrels.
1O. Comprehensive JP-5 fuel system with greatly increased storage capacity.
11. Special weapons (nuclear) handling and storage facilities.
12 No.3 deck edge elevator, all elevators of upgrade capacity.
13 Larger boat and aircraft crane.
The combination of these additions brought Bon Homme Richard's full load displacement to 42.600 tons, an increase of over 5,000 tons.
Recommissioned 6 Sep. 1955, the modernized carrier proceeded on her shakedown cruise.
Embarking ComCarDiv-7 and CVG-21, Bon Homme Richard left for her first peacetime WesPac deployment 16 Aug. 1956.
She would make eleven more WesPac's in the ensuing years' but all of them would not be as peaceful as the 56-57 cruise.
Air Group 21 brought to Bon Homme a unique mixture of aircraft, including the radical twin engine F7U-3 Cutlass, which operated as an attack aircraft by VA-212. This was Bonnie Dick only Cutlass deployment.
The Skyraider component, typical of air groups of the time, was VA-215 (AD-6's).
The mixed bag of fighters was VF-211 (FJ-3's) and VF-213 (F2H-3's), which with the Cutlass made an unusual collection.
The photo det, VFP-61, was equipped with Banshees(F2H-2P's), and the air group operated with VAH-6 AJ-2's for in-flight refueling during the cruise.
Though interesting in composition, this air group didn't fully exploit the capabilities provided to Bon Homme Richard by her modernization.
Returning to the United States 28 Feb. 1957, the ship soon entered dry dock at the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard for a $450,000 repair and alteration availability.
Completing repairs, Bonnie Dick became the first carrier to launch aircraft and have them recovered by another carrier on the opposite coast after a non-stop cross- country flight.
On 7 June, two VX-3 F8U-1's flashed across the United States in three hours and twenty-eight minutes to the USS Saratoga off the coast of Florida. Two A3Ds also made the trip without refueling. President Eisenhower, embarked in Saratoga, witnessed this demonstration of naval airpower.
After a brief five months turnaround, Bon Homme Richard left Alameda 10 July 1957 for a second peacetime deployment to the Far East.
Exchanging CVG-5 for CVG-21, Bonnie Dick became the first Essex class carrier to deploy with the F4D-1 (VF-141) and the A3D-2 Skywarrior (VAH-2). VF-141's companion fighter squadron for this cruise was VF-51 (FJ-3's) while VA-54 supplied the Skyraider contingent. The VFP-61 photo det switched to F9F-8P Cougars. With Skyrays and Skywarriors, the potential provided by modernization was beginning to be realized.
During the cruise, the ship accumulated her 9,000th arrested landing and was visited by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and Madame Chiang while operating in the Formosa Straits.
Returning to Alameda from the five months deployment 11 Dec., Bon Homme soon moved to Puget Sound for a four months overhaul. During the overhaul the 3-inch 50 twin gun mounts were unshipped and No. 1 aircraft elevator centerline was extended forward to accommodate the length of a Skywarrior.
Bon Homme Richard's next deployment brought yet another new air group, this time CVG-19. This was the beginning of a long association for the two. Bonnie Dick would make a total of six deployments with aircraft carrying CVG-19's NM on their tail. This first CVA-31/CVG-19 cruise brought a homogeneous (by squadron number) air group aboard: VF-191 (F11F-1's), VA-192 (FJ-4B's), VF-193 (F3H-2's) and VA-195 (AD-6's). The heavy attack components remained VAH-2 Det Echo and the photo det retained Cougars. After nearly a full year in the States, Bon Homme Richard began her fifth WestPac 1 Nov. 1958, with ComCarGru 3 embarked.
In February, Capt. David McCampbell, World War 11 Medal of Honor winner as the Navy's leading Ace (34 kills), became Bonnie Dick's ninth commanding officer.
Following routine operations, Capt. McCampbell brought his ship home to Alameda 18 June again making a five-month turnaround, CVA-31 departed Alameda 1 Nov. 1959.
This second CVA-31/CVG-19 cruise experienced a significant reshuffle of the air group. The transition of two squadrons (VA-192 and 195) to A4D-2 Skyhawks, in place of Furys and Skyraiders respectively, added significant punch to the air group.
The Skyraiders were not deleted, however, as VA-196 brought AD-6s aboard.
Bonnie Dick also operated her first F8U-1P Crusader on this cruise with VCP-63.
VAW-11 Det-Echo provided airborne early warning capability with AD-5W's.
En route to WestPac, Bonnie Dick conducted CarQuals off Hawaii for Marine Air Group 13, qualifying VMA-212 and VMA-214 FJ-4Bs.
After arriving in Japan, VMA(AM)-542 qualified their pilots off Atsugi. One F4D- I was lost with its pilot during this period.
In February, while berthed at Yokosuka, Capt. Harold S. (Sid) Bottomley a Navy Cross winner from the Battle of Midway. relieved Capt. McCampbell.
In mid-March, Bon Homme Richard took part in Operation Bluestar, the largest amphibious operation in the Pacific since the close of WW 11. Stopping in Hong Kong 26 March, she then steamed south around the tip of Malay, through the Malacca Strait to accept the invitation of the Indian Navy to visit Bombay. This was the first carrier visit to Bombay since WWII.
Departing 16 ApriL Bonnie Dick returned to Alameda 14 May. She soon sailed to Puget Sound for an overhaul, which included the installation of a huge 40-foot by 7-foot bedspring antenna for the SPS-37A air search radar. The remaining of the eleven-month turnaround period between cruises was spent readying Air Group 19 for deployment.
The group's composition for this third CVA- 31/CVG-19 union experienced an important fighter change and a new squadron. VF-191 had transitioned to the Vought F8U- I Crusader, greatly enhanced the ship's fighter cover. The Willy Fudds added a welcome early warning airborne and air intercept control capability, VAW-11 also provided electronic warfare capability as they also brought AD-5Qs with the Fudds, a unique combination.
Leaving San Diego 26 April 1961, the team proceeded to Pearl Harbor. The normal Operational Readiness Inspection in Hawaii was not held, and three days after arriving the ship departed for Subic Bay. During the next two months, Bon Homme Richard conducted operations in the South China Sea and recorded her 71,000th landing since recommissioning. With her bow pointed east she departed Japan 2 Dec. and returned to San Diego on the morning of 13 Dec. 1961, seven and half months after her departure.
Following a month of leave Bonnie Dick's crew once again began the never-ending training cycles. Seven months in CONUS ending on the morning of 17 July 1962 as she once again headed towards the Orient, her eighth such trek since WW 11.
Air Group 19's makeup was unaltered from the previous cruise. En route to WestPac Bon Homme Richard conducted her ORI in Hawaii. Operations were conducted in the South China Sea from Subic Bay during the early part of the cruise and later near Japan. During this deployment, two Bon Homme squadrons, VF-193 and VA-196 were awarded CNO Aviation Safety Awards for 1962. Additionally, VF-193 was awarded the Battle "E" by ComNavAirPac The ship returned to San Diego I I Feb. 1963 and after a month's stay was underway to Puget Sound.
At Puget, she underwent a four-month overhaul, which included replacing the SPS-8 3-D air search radar with a more powerful SPS-30. Upon completion of the $7 million overhaul, she returned to San Diego 30 July 1963.
While there she went through the paces of retaining her crew and requahfyffig Air Group 19, which was redesignated Air Wing 19 (CVW) 20 Dec. 1963, as were all CVGS.
The cruise of 1964 was the fifth CVA-31/CVW-19 cruise, but was the first with two F-8 squadrons as the fighter element. This was the beginning of a long association for VF- 191 and 194 as sister squadrons, a union that would last fourteen years through three more carriers.
For this cruise together Satan's Kittens had transitioned to F-8's since the last cruise and VF-194's Red Lighting came in the form of F-8C's replacing VF-193 in the CVW-19 line up. Following her 28 Jan. departure from the States, and ORI held off Hawaii in mid-Feb., Bon Homme Richard arrived in Subic Bay on the 23rd After a brief operating period during which she recorded her 97,000th landing Bonnie Dick's task group assumed the name Concord Squadron and headed through the Stait of Malacca for the Indian Ocean on a good well cruise.
With most of the crew new, some 2500 Pollywogs had to pass the ordeal of the, Ancient Order of the Deep. The crossing took place on 8 April. The Bon Homme was the flag-ship for Radm R-B.Moore. The supporting ships of this good well cruise where USS Frank Knox DD-742, USS Shelton DD-790, USS Blue DD-744 with undeway-replenishment from the USS Hassayampa AO-145.
The Concord Squadron port of calls were:
Diego-Suaraz, Madagascar ( 14-17 April )
Mombasa, Kenya ( 20-23 April )
Port of Aden ( 27-29 April)
On 2-3 of May the Shah of Iran flew aboard for a naval gun firing demonstration by the Bonnie Dicks escorts.
She then returned to Subic Bay on the 16 May On 28 Aug., as the 1964 cruise was nearing its scheduled completion, the trip back to San Diego was delayed when the North Vietnamese (torpedo) gunboats attacked the USS Maddox DD-731 and USS Turner Joy DD-951.
Bon Homme Richard was ordered to the area to commence strike operations against North Vietnam and remained on Yankee Station for forty-five days.
The USS Bon Romme Richard CVA-31 was now in her third war.
On 6 Nov. she headed for San Diego, arriving the 21st after a ten months cruise. It was to be the longest cruise of her career.
A bare five months to the day after she returned to the States, Bon Homme was underway 21 April 1965 for her final deployment with CVW-19. Its composition intact from the previous cruise, CVW-19 conducted air operation en route to Hawaii. Interestingly, this cruise had originally been planned as a Mediterranean cruise on an exchange basis with the Norfolk based USS Independence CVA-62.
The "Indy" was making the first A-6A deployment and her employment in Vietnam was felt to be of greater value than a Med cruise. The exchange with the Bonnie Dick, however, was not to be, as both carriers wound up in the Tonkin Gulf.
Arriving in the Philippines I8 May after her ORI in Hawaii Bonnie Dick once again reported to CTF-77 and commenced special operations from Yankee Station the 26th.
Combat operations were conducted from both Dixie and Yankee Station at various periods until 2 Oct. Bon Homme Richard entered Subic Bay on that day but before mooring was completed she was ordered underway again on a special mission.
Task group operation commenced 9 Oct. and continued through the 28th. The ship returned to Subic Bay on the 30th after 53 days at sea.
During these at-sea periods Bonnie Dick participated in exercise Checkertail and, Autumn Flower and also provided support for Operation Dagger Thrust.
After a short Recreation and Recuperation (R&R) trip to Hong Kong 4-11 Nov., strikes were again flown from both Yankee & Dixie Stations between 14 Nov. and 16 Dec.
On 18 Dec. Bon Homme Richard returned to Subic Bay, departing the next day for Hong Kong, Yokosuka and home. The welcome sight of San Diego appeared 13 Jan. 1966 as the Bonnie Dick completed her 267-day cruise.
On 26 Jan. Bon Nomme Richard entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a $22 million, eight-month overhaul. The repairs and alterations gave her a ship-wide chilled air-conditioning system (the first Essex-class carrier so equipped), a major aircraft service complex (AIMD), a data processing center and a new weapons servicing and stowage capability including an Ordnance Control Center.
A major repair item was the renewal of the wood sections of flight deck and application of a polyurethane covering over the planks. In the landing area aluniinum-clad hickory inserts replaced the original wood. The overhaul was the largest ever undertaken by the shipyard without decommissioning the ship.
Her overhaul completed, Bonnie Dick left the shipyard for San Diego. En route she suffered a catastrophic casualty to No.2 main engine HP turbine. The ship was forced to return to Long Beach 1O Oct. for replacement of the turbine. The replacement was provided from the Bunker Hill, inactive since WW 11 and was moored at San Diego as an electronics test ship. Bon Homme Richard left the shipyard with repairs completed 2 Nov. 1966.
Conducting a compressed three months work-up schedule with Air Wing 21, Bon Homme departed San Diego for her third Vietnam combat cruise 25 Jan. 1967.
CVW-21 was returning to Bonnie Dick after ten years absence for just one cruise, but they were to acquit themselves well.
VF-24 (F-8C's) and VF-211 (F-8E's) were to have a MiG-killing spree that was not equaled during the war.
It was Bon Homme Richard's last Spad cruise (as her ancient Skyraiders had become known) with VA-215 aboard (A-1H's and J's). VA-76 (A-4C's), VA-212 (A-4E's) and VAH-4 Det 31(A-3B's) filled out the attack squadron complement. Bon Romme Richard and CVW-21 became the first and only ship/air wing team to shoot down ten North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighters.
The first two MiGs were blasted out of the skies over North Vietnam appropriately, on the big Conununist holiday of 1 May 1967 (May Day), during a strike on Kep Airfield, 35 miles north of Hanoi. Lcdr. Moe Wright got the first of four VF-211 MiGs kills.
During the same strike Lcdr. Ted Swartz, flying a VA-76 A4C Skyhawk was making a rocket run on Kep when he encountered two MiGs. He managed to shoot down one of them using an unguided air-to-ground Zuni rocket, thus becoming the first Navy pilot in the Vietnamese War to shoot down a MiG with an A-4 or a Zuni.
The main strike force of Skyhawks led by Lcdr Paul Hollandworth destroyed five more MiGs parked at Kep.
Later in the month, on 19 May Bon Homme Richard pilots shot down four MiG-17s in aerial combat. Cdr. Paul Speer and Ltjg Joe Shea of VF-211 Checkertails and Lcdr. Bobby Lee with Lt. Phil Wood of VF-24 Checkertails scored one victory. On 21 July, CVW-21 fighters knocked down four more MiGs over Ta Xa oil storage depot located 25 miles northeast of Hanoi. Lcdr. Red Isaacs bagged the last Cheekertail kill of the cruise. Lcdr. Bob Kirkwood, Lcdr. Tirn Hubbard and Ltjg. Phil Dempewolf with a probable raised the Checkertail score to five. Bonnie Dick's numerous victories over North Vietnam made her the Navy's first "ace" carrier, with the Navy's first "ace" squadron, (VF-211) of the Vietnamese War. (VF-211 had three kills from prior cruises, hence a total of five before VF-24.
A strike group from Bon Homme Richard hit at the heart of North Vietnam when CVW-21 struck a thermal power plant located 1.1 miles from the center of Hanoi on 19 May. Bonnie Dick's aircraft were the first carrier force to hit this strategic target. Repeated strikes on the thermal plant in Hanoi coupled with multiple strikes on the thermal plants located in Haiphong, Than Hoa and BacGiang crippled North Vietnam's ability to produce electric power and at one point, Bonnie Dick had reduced North Vietnam's electric power production capacity to fifty percent. During this cruise Bon Homme Richard's CVW-21 flew a record number of major air strikes during a Seventh Fleet deployment, with a total of seventy-tbree. In accomplishing this, CVW-21 pilots flew a major strike on the average of one every other day and on numerous occasions flew as many as three strikes a day.
During the deployment CVA-31 was on the fine 112 days. Attack Carrier Air Wing 21 pilots flew 8,879 combat sorties and 2,500 combat support sorties, hitting a high of 133 on 5 May. During the cruise they made 10,865 arrested landings to raise the ships total of 139,170.
The final MiG box score for this record setting cruise was fifteen MG-17destroyed ( nine plus one probable in aerial combat and five on the ground and another twelve damaged ). San Diego welcomed Bonnie Dick home from her third Vietnam War cruise on 25 Aug. 1967.
Following the stand down period the ship sailed for Long Beach for a brief industrial repair availability.
On 29 Jan. 1968, Vice Admiral Allen M. Shinn, ComNav,4irPac, came aboard to present the Navy Unit Commendation to Bon Homme Richard and,Air Wing 21.
The five months between cruises passed quickly as the attack carrier again made a short work up, this time with, Air Wing 5, another early Bonnie Dick air wing returning after more than a decade of absence.
Shortly before Bonnie Dick's 27 Jan. 1968 departure from San Diego, North Korean seized the USS Pueblo AGER-2 in international waters near Wonsan and carrier task units were reassigned to patrol in the area.
Bon Homme Richard was directed to proceed to Subic Bay after a shortened stay in Hawaii. Arriving on Yankee Station with TF-77 21 Feb., CVW-5 pilots began troop support and interdiction campaigns in North and South Vietnam.
During the siege of Khe Sanh in March, Air Wing 5 Crusaders from VF-51 (F-8H's) and VF-53 (F-8E's), and Skyhawks from VA-93 (A-4F's), VA-94 (A-4E's) and VA-212 (A-4F's) hit a concentration of over 12,000 North Vietnamese troops surrounding the 5,000 marines.
Enemy supply lines in the area were also attacked. During the summer VF-51 and VF-53 bagged three MiGs to add to Bonnie Dick's record. The first was credited to Cdr Lowell F. "Moose" Myers of VF-51. After 181 combat missions he got a MiG-21 26 June near the North Vietnamese coastal city of Vinh.
Cdr Myers expressed his feelings: "I've been training for it for twelve years and practiced it a thousand times. If I've practiced it once. It was the biggest thrill of my life. It really felt great."
Cdr Guy Cane of VF-53, when describing the battle that took place 29 July related: "It was just like a real old fashion WW I donnybrook. I went after the MiG and fired a missile. It detonated just short of his tailpipe ......... an the MiG went into a nose- down, diving spiral."
Less than a week later, Lt. Norman McCoy of VF-51 and Lt. George H. Wise of VF-53 tearned up to bring down another MiG.
Later, a night strike discovered fifty enemy trucks in a large convoy and Bonnie Dick jets destroyed or damaged forty-three on 17 Aug..
Bon Homme Richard lell the line for Subic Bay, and then Yokosuka in Sept. en route home she encountered a fierce typhoon and was delayed several days before arriving at San Diego 10 Oct. 1968.
For Bon Homme Richard only five months at home in the States was an old story. Two months of repair work in San Diego and six weeks in Long Beach prepared the old girl for her fifth Vietnam combat tour. Before sailing 18 March 1969, the ship and,Air Wing 5 received another Navy Unit Commendation for the 1968 cruise.
For this second consecutive CVW-5 cruise, VF-51 and VF-53 both had transitioned to the more advanced Crusader model, the F-8J. There were two new comers in the three squadrons of Skyhawk lineup. VA -22 and VA-144, flying Foxtrots and Echos respectively, VA-94 with A-4Es remained from the previous and, in fact, would make all three CVA-31/CVW-5 Vietnam deployments.
En route to Southeast Asia the ship made brief stops at Pearl, Yokosuka and Subic Bay.
When a Navy EC-121 was shot down by the North Koreans, 15 ApriL Bonnie Dick was ordered to sortie from Subic Bay to Yankee Station to assume duty for the other carrier diverted to Korean waters.
The ship returned to Subic Bay after thirty-four days at sea, sailing again for Yankee Station 2 June to conduct strike operation until the 26th when she left for Sasebo, Japan.
She returned for a thirty-day line period on Station Yankee in Aug. In Sept.
Bonnie Dick was again in Sasebo followed by a five day visit to Hong Kong commencing the 17th.
Back on Yankee Station for two weeks of air operations she entered Subic Bay in Oct. for a two days prior to moving to Yokosuka to be relieved by USS Coral Sea CVA-43.
After one last liberty call in Japan, Bon Homme Richard sailed for home, arriving at North Island 29 Oct. 1969 For the remainder of 1969 the carrier was in a restricted availability.
She began her refresher training cycle 5 Jan. 1970 completing it the 23d .
In late Jan. the ship started CarQuals, working up for her ORI and participating in ROPEVAL 4-70. On 12 Mar. Bon Homme Richard entered San Diego for three weeks of finale preparation for her sixth combat deployment to Vietnam again, barely five months after her return home, on 2 Apr. 1970 Bonnie Dick saided west.
This would be her finale deployment.
The CVW-5 make up was intact from the previous cruise, the single change being the transition of V,4-144 to A-4E's.
Arriving at Pearl Harbor 13 Apr. after a three day ORI off the cost of Hawaii the ship was en route to Subic Bay the next day, arriving the 26'. Bon Homme Richard was again "on the line" on 2 May, to begin her first five line periods.
During the month of June, Bon Homme was in Subic for four days before returning to Yankee Station and on 22 June the ship set sail for Hong Kong for a week of rest.
By 1 July she was once again off the cost of Vietnam, conducting air operations until the 28h. After returning to Yankee Station for special operation from 17 to 31 Aug., Bon Homme Richard steamed south to visit Singapore.
After an in-port period in Subic the ship returned to Yankee Station on 28 Sep. for the last line period of her final deployment.
Bonnie Dick set her bow into the wind 22 Oct. and headed for home. On 12 Nov., Bon Homme Richard pulled into her homeport of San Diego for the last time. Phase 1 of inactivation work commenced 15 Dec. after a 30-day leave and liberty period. With dependents and automobiles embarked, at 1500, 11 feb. 1971, Bonnie Dick was underway for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Arriving in Drydock #6 at 1700, 16 Feb., she commenced the second phase of inactivation. The USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31 was decommissioned 2 July 1971.
The following message, in part was sent to Bon Homme Richard by Admiral John S. McCain Jr. Commander-in Chief Pacific:
" It is a matter of great regret that I am unable to attend the decommissioning. This occasion is a matter of real importance to me, from both a personal and a professional viewpoint: Personally, because my mother commissioned this ship at the time my father was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for air during WW 11. professionally, for many reasons Bon Homme Richard is a splendid ship whose fighting sprit gained her wide fame among the navies of the world. The passing of this great carrier into a decommissioned status makes a point in history that gives pause for reflection. The outstanding record of Bon Homme Richard speaks for itself. Her contribution to the continuing battle for freedom against insidious ambitions of the Communist World is well recognized.
We also must remember that no other ship is better than the officers and bluejackets who take her to sea.
They are the fountainhead of what is known as a ship's spirit, and, in this case, Bon Honnne Richard has had no superior.
The officers and men who have served in this ship in the past and those who are now members of the crew are a vital part of the greatest Navy in the history of the world.
The enlisted men are the foundation of the fleet, and the officers provide the leadership to carry the ship's mission and tasks.
As the ship's company disassembles after today's ceremony and each one of you departs on your individual way, you can do so with the fine sense of pride.
For wherever you go, you will take with you the highest mark, I served in Bon Homme Richard.
Bon Homme Richard is no longer with the fleet, and has been broken up for scrap metal. But to those who served on her, she will always be the one ship that got the job done. She was never in the lime light and never seemed to get the press coverage of other ships, but she was the one ship that was always there to serve her country with pride. There was none better.
Now our pride lives on with a new ship with the proud name Bonhomme Richard LHD-6, which is operating with the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
In May 1992, the USS BON HOMME RICHARD ASSOCIATION received a letter from Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center which read "We have just learned that BON HOMME RICHARD has been sold for scrapping to Southwest Recycling, Inc." (Terminal Island, San Pedro CA)
In July 1993 the USS BON HOMME RICHARD Newsletter reported that the ship was almost completely dismantled.
Addendum To Editor's Notes
When the BHR was brought to Long Beach by Southwest Marine Recycling,
I was fortunate enough to be allowed to go aboard. The ship was in fairly poor condition, having been exposed to the elements for so long without proper maintainance. Even if she wasn't in the condition of good repair, it was still a pleasure to go back aboard. Anyone who has spent time on a ship will understand what I 'm about to say. When another former crewmember and I went aboard, the ship had very limited power.
We went wherever we wanted to go with no questions asked of us by the yardworkers. The only way to describe it is this, the ship felt dead. There was no crew aboard. Without her crew, a ship has no soul. This was evident a few weeks later when Southwest Marine held an open house (against the Navy's wishes). The morning of the open house, when we got to the ship and went aboard, it was amazing. All the hanger bay lights were on, there were lights in the passageways and compartments. I have to give the people at the yard a lot of credit, they made the old girl shine as best they could, after all, it was her last hurrah wasn't it? It was the people that really made the difference. They estimate the crowd was about 1500 that day. When you walked down a passageway, you had to wait at some of the hatches, the way those of us who crewed in her can remember it being at times. We gave her her due, we held a memorial ceremony for those crewmember who gave their lives while serving onboard. The Navy wouldn't allow the Chaplain from the
Naval Station to attend, so one of the former crewmen who's a lay preacher did the service. To some, it might seem strange to become sentimental over a floating mass of steel, but they never went to sea, so they can't begin to understand how a sailor feels about his ship. Sure, we complain about the ship, that's ok, she's our ship, no one else had better say anything about her. The Monday following the open house, they started to take her apart. I avoided the San Pedro area for the time it took to completely dismantle the ship, I didn't want to remember her that way. I'd rather remember her as Jed Levine the BHR's last PAO who signed the guest book put it: Eight Burning, Four Turning, and coming into the wind with Foxtrot at the dip.
NEW YORK NAVAL SHIPYARD
Brooklyn, New York
PUGET SOUND NAVAL SHIPYARD
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