Thursday, February 22, 2024

Local Author Pens Biography of Admiral Joe Rizza

CORONADO – Joe Rizza, to his Coronado friends, has long been known as an extreme intellectual with undying pride in his community. His knowledge of world politics and issues is of an intensity all its own. His involvement in Coronado Rotary and Coronado Roundtable is well documented, and he is the original recipient of the Coronado Citizen of the Year Award.

Many know Joe as a former military man (retired after 30 years in the US Navy at the rank of Captain, and from the US Maritime Service as Rear Admiral). Close friends recalled that he took over the helm of a failing California Maritime Academy and turned it into an accredited, four-year institution.

But few know just how much Joe has done for his country, or what an esteemed educator he has been over the years. Now, at the age of 96, he has shared his story for others to read. Local author and historian Joe Ditler has just completed a biography on Admiral Rizza called, “THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOE RIZZA: Friend of All The World.”

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 to Italian immigrant parents, Joe, at the age of three, lost his father to the influenza pandemic of 1918. He learned by the age of six that you either worked in the coal mine, you shined shoes, or you were thrown into an orphanage.

Joe worked and fought 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 rigging of a 19th century sail training ship more than 100 feet above the deck.

He became the youngest Master Mariner in the Merchant Marine and explored the oceans and continents of the world as a bystander to the twilight of old Colonial Rule, before contamination by the West.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Joe entered the United States Navy as a young but highly experienced seagoing officer. He liked it so much that he stayed for 30 years.

Joe survived Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific Theatre of WWII. He taught the South Koreans how to build a Navy, he was Zumwalt’s Chief-of-Staff in Vietnam, he wrote position papers for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that influenced Presidents and the fate of countries, he drove fleets of destroyers through massive storms at sea, and he was the lone white knight to gallop in and save a struggling California Maritime Academy when it needed him most.

Along the way he married a star of the Silver Screen (his boyhood, matinee idol crush), he met Princess Grace and Lana Turner. Henry Kissinger was his professor, Idi Amin invited him on a hunting trip, and he broke bread with Ibn Saud on the floor of his desert palace.

Joe Rizza, you see, is indeed “friend of all the world.” Now, at 96, he has worked with the author to piece together his very interesting life over nearly a century, combined with rare photographs he has taken and collected along the way. He shares it all in the biography, “THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOE RIZZA: Friend of All the World,” a 100-page tome of 17,000 words and 120 photographs.

Joe Ditler writes for magazines as an international waterfront reporter. He has 15 years executive experience with museums from San Francisco to San Diego and specializes in Coronado and waterfront history.

He is sole owner and creative director of Schooner or Later Promotions and Part-Time PR, where he works with a variety of business clients, products and authors to help them gain greater visibility and marketing strength in the media. He is currently working on three other books about Coronado.

“THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOE RIZZA: Friend of All the World” sells for $22.95. To preview the book, or to order a copy, visit

The new biography, “THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOE RIZZA: Friend of All the World.”

The 1896 barkentine Annapolis, training ship for the Pennsylvania Maritime Academy and veteran of the Spanish-American War. It was here Joe Rizza conquered his fear of heights, at night, alone.

Taken by young merchant seaman Joe Rizza in Hong Kong Harbor, 1936.

As a merchant seaman Joe explored the oceans and continents of the world, witnessing the twilight of old Colonial Rule.

Admiral Joe Rizza today, at age 96, continues to be active in Coronado Rotary, Coronado Roundtable, and with his church. Photo by Joe Ditler.

President Reagan surveys the campus of the California Maritime Academy as Joe Rizza explains expansion plans for the Academy. Governor Reagan asked Rizza to accept the job of President of the Academy, at a time when the Academy needed strong leadership.

Joe Rizza and the author, Joe Ditler, arriving at the Hotel del Coronado for their weekly Rotary meetings.

Coronado Times Staff
Coronado Times Staff
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