CORONADO – Admiral Joe Rizza passed away last October at the age of 97. His long careers in the Merchant Marine and US Navy, and as an educator had been heralded far and wide upon his passing.
Now comes word that the United States Senate has paid Admiral Rizza a distinct honor. Diane Feinstein, United States Senator from California, authored a US Senate Proclamation honoring Rizza at the close of 2012.
Friends of Joe Rizza – Karen Schaeffer and Grant Mydland - initiated the effort. As a result of their research and determination the Proclamation is now in the hands of Joe Rizza’s grandchildren, Michael and Phillip Monroe and their children.
The Proclamation reads: “In honor and recognition of a lifetime of dedicated service to our Nation. As a Rear Admiral for the United States [Merchant Marine, Captain for the United States] Navy, an advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a beloved member of our community, Admiral Rizza leaves behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
“His outstanding record of conduct and performance exemplify how one person can make a profound difference in the lives of others. His life’s work was truly inspirational, and his family can be proud, knowing that his public service honors all the men and women of the armed services community.”
“I offer my sincere condolences and would like to pay my respects to the memory of a man who served his country honorably and with the utmost integrity,” said Senator Feinstein.
Admiral Rizza retired in 1983 after 50 years of a distinguished professional life encompassing three related careers – US Merchant Marine officer (1934-42), US Naval Officer (1942-72), and President and champion of the California Maritime Academy (1972-83) in Vallejo, California.
A reporter at the Sacramento Bee Newspaper once summed up Joe Rizza as a man not to be taken lightly. He went on to say that Joe had “all the appearances of a good small man looking for a good big fight.” How right he was.
Born of Italian immigrants, Rizza learned at the age of six that you either worked in the coal mine or shining shoes, or you were thrown back into the orphanage.
Joe Rizza worked hard his whole life. At the Pennsylvania Maritime Academy he defied his fear of heights one ratline at a time, under cover of darkness, until he became proficient enough to skylark through the rig of a 19th century training ship harkened from the Age of Sail.
He became the youngest Master Mariner in the Merchant Marine and explored the oceans and continents of the world only to discover that this was the last glimpse of old Colonial Rule before it became absorbed by Western influences.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rizza entered the United States Navy as a young but highly experienced seagoing officer. He liked it so much, he stayed for 30 years. Joe survived Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific Theatre of WWII and helped deliver General Douglas MacArthur on the beach at the Philippines for his celebrated return.
He taught the South Koreans how to build a Navy, he was Admiral Elmo Zumwalt's Chief-of-Staff in Vietnam, he wrote position papers for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, he influenced Presidents of the United States, he drove fleets of destroyers through storms at sea, and he was the lone, great white knight to gallop in and save a struggling California Maritime Academy.
Along the way he married a star of the Silver Screen (his boyhood crush), he met Princess Grace and Lana Turner. Henry Kissinger was his professor, Idi Amin invited him on a hunting trip, he broke bread with Ibn Saud on the floor of his desert palace.
The year before his passing, admiral Joe Rizza finished his biography, a modest effort that succeeds in capturing his fascinating life in 100 pages and through many photographs. It is available to read on line, free, at: http://www.blurb.com/books/2471487-the-life-times-of-joe-rizza.
Admiral Rizza was also honored locally when San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox adjourned a regular meeting of the County Board of Supervisors in Rizza’s memory. “Admiral Joseph Rizza served his country and his community with great distinction and I was honored to adjourn the Board of Supervisors meeting in his memory,” said Supervisor Cox.