Paul Rinn is one of the world’s most accomplished Naval Leaders, and today, we remember his legacy that will continue to inspire the future generation in the Navy. 

Capt. Paul X. Rinn was a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy for 29 years. He was the very first commanding officer of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) and the USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55). He also served in the Iraq War and was awarded multiple recognitions, including “Meritorious Service Media 5,” “Joint Service Commendation Media,” “Navy Commendation Medal,” “Navy Achievement Medal,” “Combat Action Ribbon,” and the “Purple Heart.”

And those were not just some decorative plaques and awards. Capt. Rinn’s outstanding journey to leading the Navy was nothing short of remarkable. He was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1946 to a lawyer father and a grade school teacher mother. They instilled a sense of discipline in him, but it was his older brother Greg (a Navy officer) who really inspired him to pursue the Navy too. 

Capt. Rinn was more than just his physical strength. He also got the brains to match it. After attending Marist College in 1968, he obtained a Master’s degree in Business Administration while studying at the Naval War College. He also had credits from his studies at Harvard University, Standford University, and Salve Regina. 

Capt. Rinn and His Legend

The guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) arrives at Naval Station Mayport after completing a six-month deployment in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility. The crew of Samuel B. Roberts conducted theater security operations and provided deterrence, promoted peace and security, and preserved freedom of the seas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean P. La Marr/Released)

On April 14th, 1988, Capt. Rinn was leading the crew of the USS Samuel B. Roberts(call the “Sammy B” by her crew) into the war-torn Persian Gulf while they were protecting Kuwaiti tankers during the Iran-Iraq War. While on a convoy protection mission, the ship struck an Iranian contact mine, which exploded and blew a truck-sized hole in the hull.  And this is when things got tricky. 

Dozens of crew members were injured, tons of seawater were flooding the ships, there was a major fire and the warship’s electrical power had been cut. 

A view of damage to the hull of the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) sustained when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. The ship is in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

Captain Rinn and his crew sprung into action to save their ship. The crew had been trained extensively in damage control techniques, but what nothing could prepare them for what they were facing here.  The ship was holed at the bottom, her keel, which supported the entire structure of the vessel had snapped.  She was now two halves of one ship held together by her upper structures. Without electrical power, they could not pump out the water or fire the fires and her engines were knocked out.  The crew first worked to get emergency diesel generators working to restore some power to the pumps and hoses and restore lighting to interior spaces that were lit now by battery-operated lanterns. Once electrical power was restored damage control crew went to work patching opened seams with anything they could lay their hands on, including mattresses and pillows wedged into them and braced with beams of wood and metal.

Still, the water kept rising and the ship was settling into the sea.  

Captain Rinn realized that the hose teams were pumping tons of seawater into the ship fighting the fires, they were sinking themselves by their own efforts.  Rinn ordered the crew to stop fighting the fires.  Now efforts to stem the flooding intensified before the fire could spread, the crew frantically moving ammunition and anything else that could explode or burn away from the now unchecked fires aboard. 

With power restored, Captain Rinn was informed by the Combat Information Center that an Iranian Frigate, the Sahand had closed to 23 miles and was approaching fast. Concerned that the Iranian vessel intended to take propaganda photos and videos or perhaps even attempt to take his crew hostage, he ordered the Iranian vessel not to approach any closer.  Soon, an Iranian P-3F Orion was detected orbiting their location.  The Orion could be armed with torpedoes or anti-ship missiles.  Captain Rinn ordered the ship’s fire control radar locked onto the aircraft, which caused it to flee into the gathering gloom.

By late afternoon, Damage Control Central could report that the water level was holding just 6 inches above the deck plates, and the pumps were able to keep ahead of the flooding.  Now the fire fighting could resume.  The fires were deep in the engineering spaces by now and spreading.  Sometime after 9 pm in the evening, the last of the fires were found and finally extinguished.  This was followed by several more anxious hours watching for the fires to restart as the scorching hot metal decks and plating cooled down.

The USS Samuel B. Roberts was eventually towed to Dubai for immediate repairs and then transported to Maine aboard a semi-submersible heavy lift ship for further repairs.  In the end, the entire 315-ton engine compartment of the ship would be cut out and replaced in just 13 months, putting back out to sea in April 1989.  The “Sammy B” would return to the fleet and go on to serve in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. She was finally decommissioned in 2015 after almost 30 years of being ‘Haze Gray and Underway.’

Capt. Rinn’s heroic leadership is a blueprint of leadership for future commanding officers to follow. According to retired US Navy Destroyer Captain and Consultant Bryan McGrath, Capt. Rinn paved the way for them to create better systems that would prepare the entire crew for any type of situation.

“Captain Rinn had enormous influence in the way that captains who commanded after him approached their job,” Capt. McGrath said. “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 again until it’s perfect. And then we’re going to practice it perfectly over and over again.

“That’s what I told my crew maybe 500 times. That is the legacy of Paul Rinn and the lessons that came out of Samuel B. Roberts: They were ready. They had prepared. They had actually thought through things. And they performed when it was most important.”

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The crew attested to Capt. Rinn’s charismatic leadership and it is known that they could survive the harshest environments because of their intense training. As it is commonplace in the Navy, the ship comes together because of the Captain.

In one of Capt. Rinn’s former speeches, he emphasized how important excellence is in his ship. 

“There aren’t any second-place awards in combat. I don’t intend this ship to be a second-place ship. I want this ship to be the best ship there ever was. But the key is that I want every sailor who ever served on the ship to think this the best thing he could ever possibly have done with his life for those three years.”

Capt. Rinn’s crew underwent months of highly intense training, but this ultimately saved them when the USS Samuel B. Roberts was deployed. 

“The story of Samuel B. Roberts doesn’t happen on April 14, 1988. It happens long before that,” said Rinn. “The story of preparedness, combat readiness, strong leadership, and everything else, starts way in advance.”

Capt. Rinn, unfortunately, died while in Boston for a speaking engagement. He was survived by three children and six grandchildren. He died at age 76.