The FARRAGUT-class frigate COONTZ (DLG 9) was named in honor of Robert Edward Coontz for his service in World War I and, later, as commandant of the U.S. Navy shipyard in Puget Sound, Chief of Naval Operations, and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet. The new guided-missile frigate was launched 6 December 1958 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and commissioned 15 July 1960. Following post-shakedown training in April 1961, the COONTZ reported to the Cruiser-Destroyer Force U.S. Pacific Fleet and joined the First Fleet as flagship of DesDiv 152, home ported in San Diego.
She left San Diego in August 1961 to join a fast carrier task force of the Seventh Fleet. Covering 55,000 miles, she proved her excellence in missilry during her seven-month Pacific tour. Stateside again in March 1962, she served as flagship of DesRon 17 and from August to November was also flagship of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla 11. That summer she returned to the Seventh Fleet and in October was on stand-by for the recovery for Wally Schirra’s Mercury Atlas 8 orbital flight. Back in the U.S. in May 1963, she demonstrated the kill capability of the Terrier surface-to-air missile for President John F. Kennedy.
The COONTZ was overhauled and her missile weapons systems extensively modernized from October 1963 to April 1964 at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. She returned to the Western Pacific in August 1964 as DesRon 17 flagship and by December 1964, was in the South China Sea supporting operations in Vietnam. In February 1965, she returned home and that summer boarded midshipmen for a training cruise. The year ended with a yard period during which she became the first of her class to receive a helicopter landing and handling upgrade.
She completed a six-month deployment in the Western Pacific from January to August 1966 during which she spent two 30-day periods on search and rescue duty as well as carrier operations and special assignments. The COONTZ was again underway for a fifth WestPac tour in August 1967 and during search and rescue missions in the Tonkin Gulf participated in the rescue of nine aviators. She was back in San Diego in February 1968. Most of that year was spent in operations with the First Fleet evaluating the first automatic test system to be installed in the surface fleet. By year’s end, she was back on Yankee Station and spent Christmas on the gun line. She, then, returned to the Gulf of Tonkin for another search and rescue mission. When North Korean jets shot down an EC-121 aircraft, the COONTZ was rushed into the Sea of Japan. She returned to San Diego in May 1969 for West Coast operations and upkeep that continued until her WestPac deployment in March 1970.
In January 1971, shortly after her last Seventh Fleet tour, the COONTZ left San Diego for the Atlantic and a major overhaul and modernization at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Back on active duty in March 1972, she headed for her new home port, Newport, Rhode Island. Following tests and operations in the Caribbean and a cruise to South America and Africa, she got underway in July 1973 for her first Mediterranean deployment.
In January 1974, the COONTZ changed her home port to Norfolk and a second tour with the Sixth Fleet that November. She was redesignated guided-missile destroyer (DDG-40) on 1 July 1975. Deployed in January 1976 with the Standing Naval Forces Atlantic, she participated in NATO operations and exercises in Caribbean, U.S., Canadian, and Northern European waters.
Routine operations and NATO exercises took her into 1983 and a cruise to West Africa, the Mediterranean and Black Seas, the Caribbean, and Central America. She was in the Caribbean in October 1983, when she was ordered to join Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada. During the amphibious assault, she provided gunfire support and small boat interdiction for ten consecutive days.
Following a Mediterranean deployment, she took part in operations with the U.S. Air Force in the Gulf of Mexico and with the Coast Guard for quarantine-operations exercises in the Caribbean through 1986. In February 1987 she was deployed to the Persian Gulf and duty with the Middle East Forces to ensure the safe passage of all U.S. vessels and maintain a U.S. presence during the escalating Iran-Iraq war.
This history and following entry from the USS COONTZ MEF 2-87 Cruisebook, are adapted from the USS COONTZ Association’s website (address below).
On 17 May 1987, at approximately 9 pm, the USS STARK (FFG-31) was attacked by an Iraqi F-1 Mirage fighter jet 50 miles from the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, where the USS COONTZ was moored. Details were few except that two missiles had hit the STARK’s port side. That night, the CONYNGHAM (DDG-17) and WADDELL (DDG-24) steamed through heavy fog to aid the STARK’s crew in fighting the flooding and devastating fires. Fire crews from the two ships “found melted bulkheads, warped decks, and ruptured fire mains.” The stricken ship was listing 15 degrees to port.
By the morning of the 18th, further assistance was on the way from Bahrain with fresh fire parties and medical support aboard the LASALLE and a 43-man fire party from the COONTZ aboard a Desert Duck helicopter. “The combined fire parties fought the fires and flooding aboard the STARK for more than 18 hours,” as several men from the COONTZ removed the dead. With the fires out and the flooding contained, the CONYNGHAM towed the STARK to Bahrain for repairs. On 20 May 1987, several members of the COONTZ’s crew reported to Bahrain International Airport for a memorial service for the STARK sailors lost in the attack. In addition to providing crowd control, they served as an honor guard to load the 37 flag-draped caskets onto a cargo jet bound for West Germany.
The COONTZ returned to Norfolk in August 1987 where she operated as part of the Second Fleet until her decommissioning in Philadelphia on 2 October 1989. She was ultimately scrapped by Metro Machine of Philadelphia in March 2003 and the scrap metal sold to Camden Iron and Metal in Camden, New Jersey.
Not all of her went to the scrap yard, however. Pieces were rescued, and several years later, her transom was installed as a memorial to the ship and her namesake Adm. Robert E. Coontz, in a park in Hannibal, Missouri, Admiral Coontz’s hometown. In addition, former officers and crew and other supporters are petitioning the Secretary of the Navy to name another destroyer in honor of Admiral Robert E. Coontz and those who served in the DLG-9/DDG-40.