The U.S. Naval Academy threw one of its oldest heroes a birthday party yesterday. He turned 258.
As it has for the past 10 years, the Naval Academy celebrated John Paul Jones Day in Annapolis, a commemoration of the Revolutionary War legend and naval hero who was born July 6, 1747, and died in Europe in 1792.
Dozens of people followed a procession from the academy's visitors center to its chapel, led by the Fifes and Drums of Prince William III, a band of musicians in Revolutionary period costumes.
Once at the chapel, where Jones rests in the crypt, several hundred gathered for a small ceremony honoring the Scotland-born hero.
Jones is best known for uttering the Revolutionary War cry, "I have not yet begun to fight!" and boldly leading a damaged and outgunned vessel to victory against a British ship in 1779.
"It's in no small terms that we call him the father of our Navy," said Capt. J. Scott Jones (no relation), who commands the USS Bonhomme Richard, a naval vessel named after one of John Paul Jones's most famous ships.
Jones's heroism still resonates with members of the armed forces, Capt. Jones said. His legacy represents "all that's right and good" about the men and women in the U.S. armed forces today, he added.
In 1905, John Paul Jones's remains were brought to Annapolis after being found in an unmarked grave in France, where they had been buried for 113 years.
The centennial celebration of Jones's return to the United States, combined with the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the academy's Class of 1955 and the deteriorating condition of the crypt, spurred several academy alumni to organize a tribute to the war hero.
More than 400 graduates of the Class of '55 raised close to $1 million to restore the crypt, said class President Dennis J. Sullivan Jr., a retired Navy commander who lives in Alexandria.
"If you went down in the crypt, it says, 'Erected by the Congress,' " said retired Vice Adm. Ted Parker, a Class of '55 member and an Annapolis resident. "This is a national monument, and we did it because it's an important national monument."
Preservation specialists restored Jones's elaborate sarcophagus, the marble and metal works in the crypt and other artifacts from the Revolutionary era, Parker said. Renovations also included a new system to control the temperature and humidity in the crypt.
Several active-duty military members said Jones's legacy of bold leadership and victory affects today's Navy.
"That fighting spirit, it is immortalized in the sailors of today," Capt. Jones said.
After the Revolutionary War, Jones went to France and later to Russia, where he fought in the war against Turkey and was made a rear admiral by Catherine the Great. He died in France in 1792. More than 100 years later, Horace E. Porter, U.S. ambassador to France, found Jones's unmarked grave and soon returned his remains to the United States.
As has become tradition, the newest class of Naval Academy students has begun to learn about John Paul Jones.
"What the public wants is a good Navy," Parker said. "Behaving like John Paul Jones is how you get a good Navy."
Historian and Revolutionary War interpreter John Wilson, who dressed like a Revolutionary War captain and led the celebration yesterday, said it is his job to educate people about the Revolutionary War figure.
Although Wilson contends that Jones is not the father of the U.S. Navy, he said the leader's renegade-like bravery make him a hero nonetheless. "It's not the myths that are important; it's what he really did," Wilson said.
Cmdr. Louis-Marie Desprezt, assistant naval attache in the French navy, said Jones's legacy represents the centuries-old tie between the United States and France.
"Courage and valor at sea are values that are transnational," Desprezt said. "And those are values that are shared by every navy, whether small or big."