Captain Paul Rinn, who saved USS Samuel Roberts from sinking, dies at 75

Paul X. Rinn, a Vietnam War veteran and ship’s captain who in 1988 led a desperate effort to save a US Navy ship from sinking after hitting an Iranian mine, died Aug. 3. He was 75 years old.

His inspirational leadership in the face of crisis made him an icon among fellow sailors long after he retired to the rank of captain in 1997. He served 29 years in the navy and settled in Fairfax Station, eventually turning full time to lecture on military leadership. and shipboard operations in the service’s vocational schools and elsewhere.

Captain Rinn died suddenly while in Boston for a speech, his family said. A cause of death was not provided.

As Captain of the frigate Samuel B. Roberts, Captain Rinn took his crew to the war-torn Persian Gulf where they joined other American warships protecting Kuwaiti tankers that had been renamed American ships during the Iran-Iraq war. Returning from a convoy on April 14, the frigate struck an Iranian contact mine, which ripped a huge hole in the hull.

The explosion broke the keel of the Roberts and cut her power supply. The vessel immediately began to take on water. But Captain Rinn had prepared his crew for such an emergency, crew members recall, and for four grueling hours they saved the ship, which the navy repaired and kept in service for another 27 years.

The fight to save Samuel B. Roberts remains a case study in combat readiness and a model imitated by successive generations of commanders, said retired US Navy consultant and destroyer captain Bryan McGrath.

“Captain Rinn had a huge influence on how captains who commanded after him approached their jobs,” the captain said. said McGrath. “What we all heard from our captains and what we all heard from the training pipeline was a similar story: we’re going to practice this over and over again, until it’s perfect. And then we’re going to practice it perfectly. again and again.

“That’s what I’ve told my crew maybe 500 times. It’s the legacy of Paul Rinn and the lessons that came out of Samuel B. Roberts: They were ready. They had prepared. In fact, they had thought about things. And they played when it mattered most.

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Born in the Bronx on September 13, 1946, Paul Xavier Rinn was educated in Catholic schools and at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Commissioned as a naval officer in 1968, he was sent a few years later to advise Thai riverine units in Southeast Asia.

The exchanges of fire on the muddy Mekong river taught the captain. Rinn that he needed to let go of the things he couldn’t do anything about and focus with all his intensity on the things he could change, he told an interviewer several years later. The fight would push you beyond anything you could imagine, he said; for those who were not already prepared, it was too late.

Successful visits aboard surface warships led Capt. Rinn at his first command in 1984: the Samuel B. Roberts missile frigate, then under construction at Bath Iron Works. As the ship gathered, the captain gathered his first masters to set the tone for the crew. “There is no second place prize in combat. I don’t intend this ship to be a second place ship. I want this ship to be the best ship that has ever existed,” he recalls. tell them. “But the key is that I want every sailor who’s ever served on the ship to think that’s the best thing they could have done with their life in those three years.”

Captain Rinn put the crew through months of intense training, and by the time Roberts made her first deployment she had beaten seven other frigates to win the squadron’s Battle E award, which recognizes the best ship overall.

Gordon Van Hook, a retired navy captain who served as the Roberts’ chief engineer, recalled the crew responding to the captain. Rinn’s energy and high standards.

“Paul had this sports mentality: I want to be the best. And the crew loved it; they ate this stuff. And that’s not always the case, you know. Often if you have a very demanding captain it can be difficult.

On the day of the mine attack, the Roberts was returning from escorting a renowned Kuwaiti tanker, which she was protecting from roving Iranian frigates and fighter jets searching for vulnerable people. targets. the explosion seriously injured 10 American sailors, including four burns and Captain Rinn himself, who broke his foot.

Although injured, Captain Rinn and his sailors battled the fires and floods in the evening, defying the odds and making headlines around the world.

While naval analysts wondered that such a heavily damaged warship could stay afloat, the U.S. military leaders planned their response. Four days later, US forces sank two Iranian warships in the short battle called Operation Praying Mantis.

Captain Rinn then commanded the cruiser Leyte Gulf and eventually served as special assistant to two chiefs of naval operations: Adm. Mike Boorda and Adm. Jay Johnson. Lessons from the Roberts were taught throughout the Navy, from the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, RI, to damage control courses at Pearl Harbor.

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After leaving the Navy, Capt. Rinn worked for defense consultancy Whitney, Bradley and Brown. But he spent more and more time at Navy schools, speaking about leadership and the lessons of his experience and building relationships with hundreds of officers and enlisted sailors. In 2008, Captain Rinn was inducted into the Surface Navy Association Hall of Fame, cementing his status as a Navy icon.

“For those of us who have been in command, our entire careers have had our captain standing on our shoulder,” said Thomas Rowden, a retired Navy rear admiral who served as the best officer service’s surface warfare in 2018. “And then comes the day when you take command and there’s no one over your shoulder. It’s just you. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.

“Now there will always be challenges and dangers when you take ships out to sea and what Paul has given us is the power of his example. We can all look to Paul, and we can all look to the [Samuel B. Roberts], and hopefully if things go wrong and I get tested that way, I can live up to it. Because Paul was up to it.

Captain Rinn is survived by his wife, Pamela Rinn; daughters Courtney Surette of Windermere, Florida; and Kirstin LeTellier of Summerville, South Carolina; his son Matthew Rinn of Castle Rock, Colorado; and six grandchildren.

Larter, a Navy veteran, served as a defense reporter for more than a decade. Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One and author of “No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf”.