Next week from coast to coast, Alaska to Hawaii, our nation will be observing and celebrating the Fourth of July. As advertisers incorporate images of our founding father George Washington and other prominent historical figures of that era in their marketing campaigns selling everything imaginable, I ask that you take a journey with me and reflect on what some have called an unsung hero from the War of Independence – John Paul Jones.
For those of us who are either current or former U.S. Navy service members, no doubt that John Paul Jones is no stranger to us. For those whom may not be familiar with him, he is what would be considered one of the “fathers of the American Navy” and as a Sailor, a man of the seas, he seemed destined to live a life of adventure and at the same time answer to a calling much greater than he could possibly imagine.
John Paul was born at Arbigland, Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, 6 July 1747. Apprenticed to a merchant at age 13, he went to sea in the brig Friendship to learn the art of seamanship. At 21, he received his first command, the brig John.
After several successful years as a merchant skipper in the West Indies trade, John Paul emigrated to the British colonies in North America and there added "Jones" to his name. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Jones was in Virginia. He cast his lot with the rebels, and on 7 December 1775, he was commissioned first lieutenant in the Continental Navy, serving aboard Esek Hopkins' flagship Alfred.
As First Lieutenant in Alfred, he was the first to hoist the Grand Union flag on a Continental warship. On 1 November 1777, he commanded the Ranger, sailing for France. Sailing into Quiberon Bay, France, 14 February 1778, Jones and Admiral La Motte Piquet changed gun salutes - the first time that the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the new nation, was officially recognized by a foreign government.
Early in 1779, the French King gave Jones an ancient East Indiaman Duc de Duras, which Jones refitted, repaired, and renamed Bon Homme Richard as a compliment to his patron Benjamin Franklin. Commanding four other ships and two French privateers, he sailed 14 August 1779 to raid English shipping.
On 23 September 1779, his ship engaged the HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Famborough Head, England. Richard was blasted in the initial broadside the two ships exchanged, losing much of her firepower and many of her gunners. Captain Richard Pearson, commanding Serapis, called out to Jones, asking if he surrendered. Jones' reply: "I have not yet begun to fight!"
It was a bloody battle with the two ships literally locked in combat. Sharpshooting Marines and seamen in Richard's tops raked Serapis with gunfire, clearing the weather decks. Jones and his crew tenaciously fought on, even though their ship was sinking beneath them. Finally, Capt. Pearson tore down his colors and Serapis surrendered.
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Bon Homme Richard sunk the next day and Jones was forced to transfer to Serapis.
After the American Revolution, Jones served as a Rear Admiral in the service of Empress Catherine of Russia, but returned to Paris in 1790. He died in Paris at the age of 45 on 18 July 1792. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery, which belonged to the French royal family. Four years later, France's revolutionary government sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten.
In 1845, Col. John H. Sherburne began a campaign to return Jones' remains to the United States. He wrote Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft and requested the body be brought home aboard a ship of the Mediterranean Squadron. Six years later, preliminary arrangements were made, but the plans fell through when several of Jones' Scottish relatives objected. Had they not, another problem would have arisen. Jones was in an unmarked grave and no one knew exactly where that was.
American Ambassador Horace Porter began a systematic search for it in 1899. The burial place and Jones' body was discovered in April 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt sent four cruisers to bring it back to the U.S., and these ships were escorted up the Chesapeake Bay by seven battleships.
On 26 January 1913, the remains of John Paul Jones were laid to rest in the crypt of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Md.
Now imagine if we were to somehow have John Paul Jones visit NAS Lemoore for a tour. Naturally, he would be entirely flabbergasted by the technological progress made in such a relatively minute sliver of human history. In fact, to help make sense of Naval Aviation we would be compelled to fly him in one of our F/A-18F Super Hornets.
As his visit draws to an end, something tells me that the one thing that would make the most profound impact on him is not our technology, but rather the composition of our modern day Sailors. He better than no one would recognize the one constant that for more than 240 years has remained constant is the DNA of the fighting spirit instilled in each and every single one of our Sailors. He would applaud our Navy for all of the battles we have fought since with beaming pride. As he marches off, I would wager just about anything that he would sign off by saying, “America’s Navy…NAS Lemoore…You have not yet begun to fight!”
We must continue to celebrate Independence Day with all of the fervor, joy and tenacity that our Founding Fathers displayed when they put their names and their lives on the line. We do this, not only to remember the past, but to keep the flame alive for future generations. We were founded on the ideals of liberty and divine unalienable rights and the guardians of our own independence. May we never forget the price that was paid for that freedom. It makes us who we are as a nation. We should all remember, especially on the day our country was founded, that the love of our country and freedoms we enjoy unify all of us, regardless of our background or way of life. We are all Americans and we all have so much to give to her.