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Authors: Bradley Peniston

No Higher Honor





Saving the USS
Samuel B. Roberts
in the Persian Gulf


Foreword by Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., USN (Ret.)

Naval Institute Press


This book has been brought to publication by the generous assistance of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.

First Naval Institute Press paperback edition published 2012.

Naval Institute Press

291 Wood Road

Annapolis, MD 21402

© 2006 by Bradley Peniston

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN 13: 978-1-61251-277-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Peniston, Bradley, 1968–

No higher honor : saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf / Bradley Peniston.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Samuel B. Roberts (Frigate : FFG-58)
2. Iran-Iraq War, 1980–1988—Naval operations, American.
3. Submarine mines—Persian Gulf.
I. Title.

DS318.85.P457 2006




First printing

Now here is a mystery of the Service.

A man gets a boat which for two years becomes his very self—

His morning hope, his evening dream,

His joy throughout the day.

—Rudyard Kipling,
The Man and the Work

Caught by the under-death,

In the drawing of a breath

Down went dauntless Craven,

He and his hundred!

—Henry Howard Brownell,
The Bay Fight

“After a bit, you see, we were all pretty much on our own,

and you could really find out what your ship could do.”

Destroyers at Jutland





Those Are Mines

Paul Rinn and the

A Bath-Built Ship

Damage Control for Breakfast

Putting to Sea

Drawing Swords

Passage to Hormuz

In Harm's Way

Mine Hit

Rising Water

Ship's on Fire

Darkness Falls


Return and Repair


Appendix: Ship's Muster


Bibliography and Sources



cores of volumes have been devoted to naval history, the bulk of them concerned with battles that pitted ships or aircraft against an enemy's opposing units.
No Higher Honor
, however, is the rather more unusual story of a single vessel: the USS
Samuel B. Roberts
(FFG 58). The book follows this guided missile frigate—the third U.S. warship to bear the name—from its construction in Maine to a single day of terror in the Persian Gulf, where a magnificent effort by captain and crew saved the ship from disaster.

Readers of every stripe who are captivated by maritime legends of heroism and skill will find the
's ultimate trial mesmerizing. The frigate was headed to a convoy assignment when it found itself in a field of naval mines laid by the Iranian military. In attempting to move clear of the mines, the ship detonated a 253-pound charge and absorbed incredible damage. Saving the ship proved a Herculean task, but the skill and unbending will of all hands eventually prevailed. The story has carved a rightful place in the annals of the U.S. Navy and stands as an inspiration to future “tin can” sailors.

This account of the struggle is riveting, but the book is a great deal more than just high adventure. It is a thoughtful endorsement of the value of preparation and training. The crew's remarkable reaction in crisis was forged in earlier months when an intelligent and determined commanding officer vowed to make his charge the best ship in the navy. There is an extensive description of the training program and priorities and the role they played in building confidence and morale. Interviews with crewmen help paint a picture of the sweat and tears that were shed in the process. This is what it takes to mold a wide array of skills into a coordinated whole. It is not easy to do.

The first ingredient is a captain who knows what he wants and who has the energy and conviction to bring the crew to his thinking. From the outset, Cdr. Paul Rinn emphasized damage control, an area that is often neglected until a unit enters its theater of operations—when it is far too late for rigorous training. Normally, commanders detail the most experienced people to operations and weaponry billets, leaving damage control to relatively junior officers. Rinn chose a different course, assigning a senior lieutenant to develop a rigorous training regimen that involved the
entire crew. Officers and enlisted sailors alike were rotated through a variety of specialty schools dedicated to damage control. These steps paid rich dividends when the
was finally tested. Of course, even the best training does not foresee all possibilities, but it can convey the knowledge necessary to meet the unexpected. The damage control preparation should be required reading for those who choose a career in the small-ship navy.

Strong and effective leadership was a hallmark of every step of the
's history. Rinn's strong hand and personal interest appear during the
's construction, preparatory training, and war-zone operations, and in the fight to save the ship. From the beginning, he took the prime responsibility for the crew's morale, its spirit, and the command's reputation, creating a sense of pride and unity that was crucial when disaster threatened. Every officer's training stresses leadership, and it is more than worthwhile to absorb a “real life” account that graphically illustrates its vital role. In essence,
No Higher Honor is
an excellent leadership textbook.

Of further interest, the book describes in some detail the difficult environment in the Persian Gulf. One moment it was placid, and the next violent—a severe test for captain and crew. Naval ships were expected to stand clear of legitimate everyday commerce, yet each skipper had to protect his command from surprise attacks. This burden required constant vigilance and a fine sense of judgment. This is bad enough in short periods of time. Over long weeks, it is exhausting and can wring a crew dry. Today, there is no alternative. Such an atmosphere is part of the new world order in which our military performs.

This story of the USS
Samuel B. Roberts
offers something to everyone who mans our warships. There is much to learn in its pages. Despite the trauma the ship faced, the reader can lay down the book with a buoyant spirit. The crew was essentially a crosscut of American society, and I suggest that their story should touch professional and laymen alike. It affirms our pride and confidence in the caliber of individuals who man our fleet and in the U.S. Navy as an institution. On a more personal level, it allows one for a few hours to be in the company of brave men.

Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., USN (Ret.) November 2005


Admiral Crowe was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the
hit the mine in April 1988, and he traveled to Dubai to inspect the damage.


mong the lessons one may draw from the tale of USS
Samuel B. Roberts
(FFG 58) is that no large purpose is achieved alone. A full list of those who graciously gave their time for interviews and correspondence appears in the notes, but several deserve mention for their special generosity in sharing memories and documentary materials, including Kevin Ford, Erik Hansen, Michael Harnar, Glenn Palmer, John Preston, Paul Rinn, Eric Sorensen, Randy Tatum, and Gordan Van Hook.

The New York City office of the U.S. Navy's public affairs branch arranged a visit to the
in Mayport, Florida, where the ship's commanding officer, Cdr. Bernard Gately Jr., went beyond the call of duty to welcome me as inspectors roamed his engineering spaces and a hurricane approached. The various holdings of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, were of great use, and I thank archivist Regina Akers, historian Randy Papadopoulous, and the staff of the Ships History Branch for steering me in helpful directions. Ken Testorff of the Navy Safety Center provided access to back issues of
magazine. Mike McLellan, a public affairs specialist at Navy Personnel Command, helped obtain
muster rolls. Sue Pierter arranged a shipyard tour at Bath Iron Works.

Tom Cutler ushered the book through the acquisition process at Naval Institute Press, where Ron Chambers and Fred Rainbow provided early encouragement. Nathaniel Levine drew the map, cutaway, and side view of the
with his customary competence and flair. Vago Muradian at
Defense News
provided flexibility at work at crucial moments.

Several people read parts of the manuscript and made helpful suggestions, including Christopher Cavas, Eric Greenwald, Anne Hastings Massey, Mickey Peniston, Mark Santangelo, and Phillip Thompson. Any mistakes that remain are mine alone. I owe a special debt to Portia Wu, my toughest editor and most generous supporter.

My family was endlessly encouraging during the research and writing of this book, and I dedicate it to them and to the memory of my father.

Bradley Peniston
Washington, DC
September 2005


12 May 1921

Samuel Booker Roberts Jr. born in San Francisco.

27 September 1942

Roberts, a U.S. Navy coxswain, mortally wounded while helping to rescue marines on Guadalcanal.

28 April 1944

First USS
Samuel B. Roberts
(DE 413) commissioned.

25 October 1944

DE 413 helps turn back the Japanese Center Force off the Philippine island of Samar, saving a U.S. invasion fleet.
sinks after taking heavy shellfire.

20 December 1946

Second USS
Samuel B. Roberts
(DD 823) commissioned.

9 September 1970

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. launches concept study of inexpensive antisubmarine escort vessel.

11 November 1971

DD 823 sunk as training target off Puerto Rico.

April 1972

Bath Iron Works begins designing Zumwalt's new ships, which are later dubbed guided missile frigates.

25 September 1976

BIW launches USS
Oliver Hazard Perry
(FFG 7).

November 1977

Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey declares FFG 7 “the best ship in 20 years.”

22 September 1980

Iraq invades Iran.

8 December 1984

BIW launches third USS
Samuel B. Roberts
(FFG 58).

1 April-20 December 1985

's precommissioning crew assembles in Norfolk.

30 June-7 October 1985

4,500 BIW employees strike.

6 February 1986

Navy inspectors call
“one of the cleanest [ships] that the Board has seen.”

12 April 1986

commissioned, Cdr. Paul X. Rinn commanding.

8 June 1986

arrives in home port of Newport, Rhode Island.

27 June-24 July 1986

trains at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

23 September 1986

seizes sailboat and 5.7 tons of marijuana off the Florida coast.

30 September 1986

receives “Mission E” awards for antisubmarine warfare, antisurface warfare, engineering, deck seamanship/navigation, damage control, and electronic warfare.

3-7 November 1986

passes final contract trials with fewest problems ever recorded by a
-class frigate. Called “best ship in program to date.”

7 March 1987

The United States agrees to protect 11 Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf, launching Operation Earnest Will.

May 1987

In tactical readiness exam,
notches highest damage control scores recorded to date.

17 May 1987

(FFG 31) hit by two Iraqi missiles.

7 June 1987

Navy inspectors call
's damage control material condition the “best ever seen.”

16 June-16 July 1987

At Guantanamo again,
becomes first vessel to handle new, tougher damage scenarios while maintaining full combat watch. Called “the best REFTRA [refresher training] ship seen in two years.”

25 June 1987

's deployment orders change; instead of heading for the Mediterranean Sea in May,
will leave for the Persian Gulf in January.

24 July 1987

Tanker MV
hits a mine during the first Earnest Will convoy.

21 September 1987

U.S. forces catch Iranian ship
Iran Ajr
laying mines.

16 October 1987

Tanker MV
Sea Isle City
hit by Iranian missile. Three days later, American warships retaliate by shelling two oil platforms said to serve as bases for Iranian gunboats.

11 January 1988

departs Newport on six-month deployment.

14 February 1988

arrives in Persian Gulf, where schedule calls for nearly four months of patrol and convoy operations.

March 1988

patrols in northern Persian Gulf, guarding U.S. special operations barges.

17-21 March 1988

anchored in Bahrain for the deployment's first liberty call.

2 April 1988

Commander of U.S. naval forces in Gulf warns that Iranians have laid 20 mines off Kuwait in March, and more may be coming.

10 April 1988

sweeps its squadron's Battle E awards.

14 April 1988

strikes Iranian mine in central Gulf. Crew fights fire and flooding for more than four hours to save ship from sinking.

16 April 1988

towed into Dubai.

18 April 1988

U.S. naval forces sink or heavily damage five Iranian warships and smaller vessels in Operation Praying Mantis, the largest surface battle since World War II.

20 June 1988

Most of crew flies home to Rhode Island. Soon afterward, Rinn turns over command of
as scheduled.

27 June 1988

loaded aboard heavy-lift ship
Mighty Servant 2

1-31 July 1988

Mighty Servant
under way for Newport.

20 August 1988

Iran-Iraq War ends in cease-fire.

6 October 1988–1 April 1989

under repair in BIW's Portland dry dock.

16 October 1989

Repairs completed for $89.5 million, $3.5 million less than estimated.

September 1990–March 1991

operates in Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

March 2004

wraps up record-breaking counterdrug deployment in Caribbean Sea.

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