Navy Hands Out Punishments to More Than 2 Dozen In Bonhomme Richard Fire

July 18, 2022Jenna Biter
The USS Bonhomme Richard burns in San Diego in July 2020. A member of the crew was formally charged in December 2021 with starting the fire on the warship. US Navy photo.

The USS Bonhomme Richard burns in San Diego in July 2020. A member of the crew was formally charged in December 2021 with starting the fire on the warship. US Navy photo.

The Navy has punished 28 sailors — from an enlisted master chief to a retired three-star admiral — for their roles in the fire that destroyed the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard as it was moored in San Diego in 2020.

Most notably, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro issued a secretarial letter of censure to retired Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who was the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Naval Surface Forces when the fire broke out on the Wasp-class ship while it was undergoing maintenance in San Diego, California.

Among the other 27 sailors, the punishments focused on the USS Bonhomme Richard’s leadership and the fire response team, according to a Navy press release. Capt. Scott Thoroman, the ship’s former commanding officer, and Capt. Michael Ray, the ship’s former executive officer, received punitive letters of reprimand and forfeiture of pay, while the former command master chief, Jose Hernandez, received a punitive letter of reprimand.

Admiral brown

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, (CNSP), gives remarks during a change of command ceremony in 2020. Brown, who is now retired, called his implication in the Bonhomme Richard fire a “political hit.” Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin C. Leitner

Rear Adm. Scott Brown, the Pacific Fleet’s director of fleet maintenance, and Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, the Navy Regional Maintenance Center’s commander, received letters of instruction from Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the US Pacific Fleet.

The Navy announced the punishments Friday, July 15, for the sailors it found responsible for failing to quickly extinguish the July 2020 fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard.

In addressing Brown, the highest-ranking officer involved in the Bonhomme Richard fallout, Del Toro wrote that the Admiral had “failed to identify and mitigate against the lack of oversight that contributed to the loss of the ship.” Del Toro censured the retired commander “for failing to effectively ensure appropriate levels of training readiness in units under [his] command.”

Brown has been publicly vocal in disputing those accusations. He told the Navy Times, “This was a political hit. For whatever reason, to appease the Senate, to appease Congress, we’re going to hang a three star.”

The censure letter will be placed in Brown’s official record, but, according to Navy Times, will not affect his retirement grade.

MCPON Visits USS BonhommeRichard (LHD 6)

Command Master Chief Joe Hernandez, left, on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, speaks with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith about firefighting efforts to save the ship. Hernandez was the senior enlisted sailor to receive a non-judicial punishment in the fallout of the fire. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom

In an interview with Defense News earlier this month, Brown disputed culpability for the bungled response to the fire. He told Defense News that he was not in charge of the Bonhomme Richard’s operational functions, even though the warship was undergoing maintenance. He was, Brown claimed, responsible only for administrative functions of the ship, not day-to-day operations like fire readiness.

Brown also said he’d been all but cleared by his superior, Paparo, the four-star who serves as the consolidated disposition authority for the fire. Brown said Paparo had found that his case “warrants no action.”

Bonhomme Richard

Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, is accused of arson in the July 12, 2020, fire that consumed the USS Bonhomme Richard. Photos from GoFundMe, US Navy. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Beyond the five senior leaders, the Navy did not name impacted sailors in the outcomes of all 27 disposition decisions. In all, the Navy handed out 10 nonjudicial punishments, five letters of instructions, six other disciplinary letters, and six determinations of no action.

The announced punishments are unrelated to the upcoming court-martial of Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays, the only sailor formally charged with setting the fire. Mays was assigned to the Bonhomme Richard after washing out of Navy SEAL training.

Read Next: US Army Veteran Bilked VA for Nearly $1 Million

Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved