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No Higher Honor

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The USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) was a small warship built for escort duty — much like its namesake vessel, one of the tin-can heroes of Leyte Gulf. But its skipper imbued his brand-new crew with their forebears’ fighting spirit, and when the guided missile frigate was thrust into the Persian Gulf at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, there was no better ship for the job.

For two months in 1988, captain and crew sailed a Gulf aflame, escorting tankers in Operation Earnest Will, the largest convoy operation since World War II. Forbidden to fire unless fired upon, they relied on wit and nerve to face down Iraqi fighter jets and Iranian warships.

The Roberts’ sternest test arrived on 14 April, when an Iranian mine ripped open its engineroom, ignited fires on four decks, and plunged the ship into darkness. With seawater rising around their boots, the crew fought flames and flooding into the night.

The ship’s tale of bravery and cool competence has become part of Navy lore and a staple of naval leadership courses. No U.S. warship since the Korean War has come closer to sinking in hostile action. The mining provoked Operation Praying Mantis, the biggest surface-ship battle in decades; helped end the Iran-Iraq War; and set the stage for conflicts to come.275pages HB

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