Golden Rule sailboat brings nuclear disarmament message to Burlington


A group of about 20 Southeast Iowa residents and city officials gathered near the Port of Burlington on Thursday to welcome the Golden Ruler and his crew, as well as to recognize the importance of the activism and kindness.

The refurbished, 64-year-old, 34-foot wooden sailboat has been sailing the shallow waters of the upper Mississippi for a month to spread a message of peaceful activism. It continues its mission of global nuclear disarmament which began in 1958, when a group of Quakers sailed from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands to protest nuclear weapons testing taking place there.

The sailboat never made it there and the crew was arrested en route.

Their mission and arrests prompted Earle Reynolds, a doctor who was investigating the effects of ionizing materials on children in Hiroshima, to attempt to sail a 50-foot boat there.

“So (Reynolds and his family) sailed over there and this guy was arrested. So between the two trials, his trial and the Golden Rule trial, there was enough national press to get the attention of the President, and the year his family sailed, the President stopped testing under the provision that the USSR would stop testing And eventually things continued and it ended with John F Kennedy signing the test ban treaty,” First Lt. Stephen Buck told The Hawk Eye from inside the cabin while holding a copy of Reynolds’ book, “The Forbidden Voyage.”

After:A sailboat sails the Mississippi River with a mission: global nuclear disarmament

First Lieutenant Stephen Buck holds a copy of Earle Reynolds

While the lawsuits received a lot of attention, the Golden Rule itself did not. It wasn’t until it sank in Humbolt Bay in northern California in 2010 that its mission was taken over by Veterans for Peace, who were instrumental in the five-year effort. to refurbish the ketch.

“We are continuing the original mission, which was an urgent need to stop the bomb tests in the Pacific, above the ground, in the air. And they were sending massive pollution of radioactive material to the people who populated the Pacific, poisoning the earth, poisoning the food, and these people are still there,” Buck said.

Buck and other crew members were humbled to meet some of the 800 Marshallese refugees living in Dubuque when the Golden Rule docked there earlier this month. Buck said some refugees were still experiencing health problems from early bomb tests.

“The mission kind of expanded to stop possessing and developing nuclear weapons,” Buck said. “Veterans of Peace would like to see the nine nuclear powers get rid of their weapons. And so that’s the main mission, but we also want to recognize climate change and education.”

Bob Mueller of Mount Pleasant is a Vietnam War veteran and member of the Iowa City chapter of Veterans for Peace, his membership made possible by COVID-19-induced Zoom meetings.

Mueller said he was fortunate to have been assigned to a computer operator position when he served from 1967 to 1969.

“I saw the guys on the pitch, and I was like ‘oh my God, this must be mental stress beyond belief’,” he said.

Gina Miranda steps into the Golden Rule booth this Thursday.

When Mueller returned to the United States after his service, he was told he couldn’t join the Foreign War Veterans because the Vietnam War “wasn’t a war”, so he joined the Veterans of Vietnam against the war. When he retired and moved from Illinois to Iowa six years ago, there was no VVAW nearby, so he found Veterans for Peace.

He said he was thrilled to be part of bringing the Golden Rule to Burlington and believes his mission is of increasing importance amid growing nuclear threats among world powers. He was born in 1946, just after the United States launched the world’s first nuclear weapons at Japan.

“It gets scary again, and you sure hope kids don’t have to grow up with that kind of threat,” Mueller said. “If we don’t do anything, we won’t get anywhere.

It was a recurring theme among the speakers at the welcoming ceremony in Burlington.

Sally Willoughby’s father George was part of the crew who was arrested on the Golden Rule in 1958, and her mother Lillian was arrested while protesting at a nuclear test site in Nevada . Willoughby was 12 when his father was arrested.

“They had no idea when they made this trip what would happen in the future. And for me, it was the rock that fell in the water, and here we are, the ripples,” he said. she declared. “They had no idea that the veterans for peace were going to find the boat and fix it and continue their mission to try to stop atomic warfare and the manufacture of armaments, and that it’s important to always know if you know what the ripples are going to be, to take that action and do something… Not to get poetic, but we could all be the rocks and the ripples at the same time, and that’s what I like to do is that we are the movement.”

Golden Rule Captain Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa holds a framed proclamation presented to him on behalf of Burlington by Mayor Jon Billups as Veterans for Peace member Bob Mueller of Mount Pleasant looks on Thursday.

Captain Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa noted progress in reducing the number of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests, but said the problem had not gone away.

“In recent years, all the big countries are bragging, oh, we have bigger and more destructive (weapons) and we’re going to use them, so it’s time to be careful again,” he said, noting that progress can be made through activism, as with the Golden Rule, as well as at the individual level. “If we’re all continually trying to be the kind of people who treat others with kindness, that also grows in communities and countries, and that’s how you get rid of the root causes of war, so both are important.”

Once the speakers were over, those present were invited to visit the sailboat which serves as a sleeping quarters for a crew of four.

Along with Johnston-Kitazawa and Buck are Mary Ann Van Cura, a retired librarian from Minnesota; and Gina Miranda, a modern Mayan sitter and author who joined the crew both to help spread the message of the Golden Rule and to further explore Mayan influence along the Mississippi River.

“I read about it and thought it was an amazing boat, historic and the first eco-friendly boat that was trying to change this kind of craziness we have against the planet. And I’m Native American , Maya, so this kind of happened to me,” Miranda said, noting that she can’t stay for the duration of the 11,000-mile trip because she has exhibits going on with some museums. “I’m learning all history, ties to the Mississippi River. That’s one of the reasons I came too, because the Mayans came here 2,000 years ago and influenced the culture of Mississippi.”

A photo of the Golden Rule is propped up next to a window in the cabin of the sailboat Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, on the Burlington riverfront.  The Golden Rule, a refurbished 64-year-old, 34-foot wooden ketch, sails the 11,000-mile Great Loop as it continues its nuclear disarmament mission.

Miranda has plenty of time to figure it all out. Friday’s trip from Burlington to Keokuk was expected to take about 10 hours, but for Johnston-Kitazawa, that’s a good thing.

“There’s something to be said for that. You see what’s going on,” he said. “(Iowa) lacks nothing in natural beauty as well as in the friendliness of the people. And I come from a place where people say it’s beautiful and the people are nice, so I’m qualified to say that. .”

Golden Rule progress can be tracked by visiting, and those interested in joining its crew for a day or more can apply by visiting


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