Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sea Stories: The Bonnie Dick

By David J. Scherer
HRNM Volunteer

It was not long after joining the volunteer crew of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum that I was asked to write a few memories of my time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31), aka "The Bonnie Dick." I suppose my bragging about a ship many years long gone prompted one of my fellows to ask me to put it on paper.
USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31) during sea trials (U.S. Navy)
Everything needs a starting point. Mine was in the autumn of 1957 when six friends and I boarded a commercial plane in Denver for a hop to San Francisco and the naval transfer station at Treasure Island. We had no idea where we would be a week hence. We were fitted with a new sea bag and given strict instructions to stick around until departure orders came through. All but one of us were earmarked for Yokosuka, Japan, and the USS Bon Homme Richard.

My Denver friends were assigned flight deck duty, the most dangerous positions on a carrier at sea. I reported to the OI Division (operations and intelligence). I would be inside, working behind a back-lighted status board. Listening to the room duty officer talking to our aircraft operating within 10 miles of our ship, I noted pertinent facts on a transparent status board, printing backwards: Pilot, plane side number, call sign, time launched, fuel state, any pertinent information, time aboard . . . do it right the first time. I loved it.

My Bon Homme Richard was the second of three ships bearing the name. The first dates to 1776 and John Paul Jones. The third and probably last ship to bear the storied name burned at the San Diego Naval Base in 2020 and was decommissioned in 2021.
John Paul Jones on the first Bonhomme Richard (NHHC)
A naval ship at sea is a fine place to make and keep friends for a lifetime. In my case it was Dave Duffy from Everett, Washington, an unrated prankster and one whose middle name was MISCHIEF. Duffy bore a notable resemblance to the Hollywood heartthrob James Dean, and he made it work for him ashore. Duffy was not beyond creating havoc whatever the location. My pal Duffy and I went a long way as buds and made many memories together. He helped me bury my mother. Not long ago, I buried him.

The biggest show in town always draws a crowd. That is how it was for an aircraft carrier cruising the Taiwan Strait in October 1957. It certainly drew a handful of notables on the 19th of that month. That was when a COD (carrier on board delivery aircraft) came aboard the Bonnie Dick and deplaned the likes of US Navy Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations. Admiral Burke attracted some of our friends: the assault carrier Kearsage, the anti-submarine carrier Princeton, helicopter carrier Thetis Bay, cruisers Roanoke and Rochester, and the guided missile cruiser Los Angeles. Each ship's captain was picked up by helicopter to take lunch with the chief aboard the Bon Homme Richard. As you might imagine, I was not invited.

Instead, I turned to matters that would serve me. I studied for my upcoming test for petty officer third class and air traffic controlman. I passed both and then learned I would be transferred to a fighter squadron at NAS Moffat Field, California. Unfortunately, there is no such animal as air traffic controlman in a fighter outfit.
Dave Scherer with the Operations and Intelligence team aboard Bon Homme Richard. Dave is immediately behind the officer in the center. (Bon Homme Richard cruise book)
As fate would have it, my new air group reported aboard its aircraft carrier: the Bon Homme Richard, CVA 31. I just moved across the passageway. Why not? We were billeted across from my old division. I never left my former brothers in navy blue, but I did not get my old job. My new squadron skipper kept his billet filled by assigning me as keeper of the squadron ready room. I cleaned the place, acquired the movies, ran the projector, kept the icebox filled with geedunks (teeth-rotting goodies), typed and photocopied the next day's flight schedule, slipped a copy under each pilot's stateroom door, and kept my nose clean until the ship returned to California and I, after two years aboard, to Colorado.

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