Review: No Higher Honor – Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf


This could happen to you

Saving a ship is serious business

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“As darkness was falling, the ship was sinking, it was on fire, it had lost electrical power, it was dead in the water, alone in a minefield, forty miles off the coast of a hostile Iran, and the ship was surrounded by sharks and sea snakes.  It’s hard to imagine it getting much worse.”

– Brad Peniston

 

No Higher Honor – Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Persian Gulf

By Bradley Peniston

2006, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD

ISBN 1-59114-661-5

List Price: USD $29.95

Reviewed By Captain Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

 

Sailors on Navy ships must always be mindful of the fact that a worst-case scenario can happen to you and your ship. 

 

No Higher Honor, written by journalist Brad Peniston, is the story about the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58), which struck a mine on April 14, 1988 in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.  Her crew not only saved their ship and exited the minefield without further damage, but the ship was eventually repaired and returned to duty.  The Samuel B. Roberts serves in the U.S. Fleet today. 

 

Peniston, a writer familiar with naval matters, interviewed the skipper, the wardroom, Chief’s mess, and crew to share with us what really happened, with his own observations and in their own words. 

 

“As darkness was falling, the ship was sinking, it was on fire, it had lost electrical power, it was dead in the water, alone in a minefield, forty miles off the coast of a hostile Iran, and the ship was surrounded by sharks and sea snakes,” Peniston writes.  It’s hard to imagine it getting much worse.”

 

The story of this incident begins long before the frigate entered the Persian Gulf.  It begins when the ship is built and the crew is formed and trained.

 

Peniston introduces us to the “Sammy B.” crew as they come together in the shipyard at Bath, Maine.  We learn about the respect and reverence the crew gains for their namesake, a coxswain killed while rescuing Marines at Guadalcanal; and for the two ships subsequently named Samuel B. Roberts, DE 413 and DD 823.  We get to know the crew as they get to know their ship.  When it is time for Samuel B. Roberts to make her first deployment, she sails to the dangerous Persian Gulf where the Iran and Iraq war was escalating and the U.S. was vigorously protecting American shipping.  Both Iran and Iraq had been attacking oil tankers, including those under neutral flags, to harm the trade of their enemy. 

 

A good ship is a proud ship, Peniston told me in an interview.  Cmdr. Paul Rinn established the command climate when he arrived at Bath Iron Works where the frigate was being built.  “He gathered the very first crewmembers to report aboard when the ship was being built, and he told them ‘we’re going to be the best ship in the Navy,’ and ‘the best ship that ever was.’  He wanted them to be proud of their ship, and themselves.  He wanted his crewmembers to look back on their years on the Samuel B. Roberts as the best years of their lives,” Peniston says.  “He told his officers and chief petty officers to look after their people with that in mind.”

 

Rinn was especially mindful of the heritage of the sailors who served aboard one of the earlier ships named Samuel B. Roberts, the destroyer escort that fought at the Battle off Samar.  That ship took on an overwhelming force of Japanese cruisers for two hours before being sunk.  Lt. Cmdr. Robert Copeland, who commanded the DE 413, later wrote that “no higher honor could be conceived than to command such a group of men.”  Rinn had a plaque mounted at the quarterdeck, listing the names of everyone of the DE 413 crewmembers that took part in that battle, to instill pride in the crew of FFG 58, and the frigate adopted the motto “No higher honor.”

 

When the ship deployed to the Persian Gulf, Rinn and his crew were acutely aware of the risk.  Iran and Iraq was a war and any ship in the Gulf found itself in the middle.  Hundreds of merchant ships had been hit by both sides.  USS Stark (FFG 31) was surprised by an Iraqi Exocet missile a year earlier, nearly sinking the frigate and eventually killing 37 crew.  An American tanker, M/V Bridgeton struck a mine.  The Gulf was a dangerous place.  Vigilance was warranted. 

 

When the lookout on the Sammy B. spotted a mine ahead of the frigate, the crew was alert.  But nevertheless it was unexpected when the ship hit a mine, ripping a huge hole in her hull and shattering the main propulsion equipment.  Peniston provides us with an eyewitness account of what was happening to the ship and what the crew was doing about it.  These crewmembers put their knowledge, experience, training and pride into action.  The ship slowly exited the mined area while the crew put out the fires and controlled the flooding.   Willpower was certainly a factor, but no amount of willpower can save a crippled ship if the ship is not sound to begin with and the crew doesn’t know what to do under adverse conditions.

 

No Higher Honor underscores the danger posed by mines.  This is not the first story of a ship severely damaged by a mine they didn’t know was there, nor would it be the last.  The crews of USS Princeton (CG 59) and USS Tripoli (LPH 10) found that out in February 1991.  Mines are inexpensive, easily attainable by third world nations, and can cripple the proudest warships from the most potent navies.  But that is a story for another book. 

 

“This is a story of what a good crew – well trained and well led – can accomplish,” author Peniston says. 

 

Any Sailor who goes to sea on a naval ship must remember that: the unexpected and undesired can happen to you. 

 

Says Rinn, “if you are not ready when it happens, it’s already too late.”

 

 

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(Photos, audio and video clips, and excerpts are posted at

 

http://www.nohigherhonor.com.)

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