Rear Admiral Peter K. Cullins

United States Navy (Retired)

Interviewer: Kent Siegel
Part Seven

SIEGEL: In our last session, you described some very exciting times in WestPac in command of Waddell, and we broke off as you were entering Pearl Harbor on your way back to San Diego.

CULLINS: Yes, we were headed back to CONUS for a more ordinary existence.  Our stop in Pearl was a bit embarrassing for me. Knowing of the sensitivity of our bow-mounted SQS 23 sonar dome (I believe only the prior three DDGs had bow mounted domes vice center mounted domes, and they stuck out a lot from the bow) I had usually used pusher boats to make pierside landings in significant beam winds while in WestPac. So I used tugs to tie up in Pearl, where we had a significant wind. Of course the other ships conned right into the piers (since they didn t have to worry about their bows). The onlookers watching didn t know that at least one of the DDGs with a bow-mounted dome had tapped it against a pier and then spent several months in the shipyard to get it repaired. At sea, I was a tiger ship handler, but coming in to a pier, I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. I did the same thing arriving back in San Diego with my old destroyerman father chiding me for using a tug! We, and the rest of the squadron, had our homeward-bound pennants flown which, as I remember, were reserved for ships deployed more than nine months. They displayed a star for the first nine months plus a star for each additional six months thereafter. The length was a foot for every crewmember who served at least nine months deployed with the length not to exceed the ship s length. That was quite a sight.

SIEGEL: That sure would have been one long pennant streaming from your ship.

I can imagine how this necessary mooring precaution grated on you, but that sort of discretion was a good alternative to the boldness that could have gotten you a bad day at the long, green table and an unscheduled trip to a shipyard for dome repairs.

CULLINS: That thought is what kept me honest. We were back in San Diego from mid-August through January 1971, for the usual type training , plane guarding, ASW school ship, etc, etc. I used quotes on type training because if the TYCOM could think of nothing better for you to do, so to keep you at sea they gave you type training, which frequently consisted of ISE or Night Steaming . I got sick of boring holes into the sea and pulled into Catalina Island one evening and on ship-shore asked the harbormaster if we could anchor there overnight. He said he didn t see why not, although it was the first time he d ever been asked. So, there was lots of very good liberty for the crew, and we didn t sack Avalon. We did this two or three times and the TYCOM never knew about it. (I considered it night steaming. )

SIEGEL: Night steaming is a fitting term; what a coup!  I remember cruising past Avalon over the years wondering if any Navy ships ever made liberty in that exotic-looking port.  I finally got my answer in this interview. 

CULLINS: The fun was finally over and we were scheduled to go up to Hunter s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco on 1 Feb for overhaul.  I told CCDP that I didn t think we needed it, and that he ought to consider us if one of their WestPac-deployed DDGs had a significant problem and needed a sudden relief. No deal, and off we went, as usual to come out of the shipyard in worse shape than we went in. 

SIEGEL: Having been involved in all or parts of six ship overhauls, I understand your pessimistic view on the outcome.  How did things go in the rather challenging environment in and around San Francisco? 

CULLINS: Well, I had to buy a liberty bus out of W&R funds to get my sailors safely back out of downtown San Fran at midnight. The gays in San Francisco were plaguing my guys with offers of rides back to the ship, with the attendant flaps , so I ran a shuttle to and from Market Street at a particular location in order to stop these hassles. 

SIEGEL: That was probably also a good way to get them safely through the hostile territory of the Hunter s Point community just outside the shipyard gate.  Were there any rubs with the vocal and often-violent antiwar activists of that era in San Fran? 

CULLINS: There was no problem in the mostly black area outside Hunter s Point. I do remember one party in San Fran given by the JOs where I was approached by a flaky, and unsteady, girl who asked if I had killed any women and children in Viet Nam. I replied of course at which point she retreated back into the smoke-filled (and aromatic) back room. I soon got out of there. 

SIEGEL: That was a timely withdrawal after a direct hit . Other than the shuttle liberty bus, were you able to keep your ambitious W&R program going in the yard?  

CULLINS: Yes, we tried to keep ourselves entertained in order to maintain positive morale. (All of us married types were living in WWII Quonset huts). We had an amusing incident with Charlie One when we were in the drydock where we had a single brow over to the dockside. One afternoon I got a call from an irate woman on the base who told me that our dog was forcing himself on her Fifi in her back yard, and she could tell where he was from because of his collar ID. I comforted the woman, told her that we would of course honor any issue that might result, financially, and that we would send the Shore Patrol to pick him up. Of course the word spread around the ship and the crew was at the brow as the Shore Patrol formally brought Charlie aboard, to cheers and clapping and Way to go Charlie!   And of course pithy, fake UCMJ violation write-ups appeared on bulletin boards accusing Charlie of violating about eight different articles (Unauthorized Absence, Conduct Unbecoming , plus some unfit for a family newspaper). 

SIEGEL: Isn t it great how one little mutt can bring joy to so many including, of course, Fifi. 

CULLINS: An interesting thing happened while I was in the shipyard. The new CNO, Admiral Zumwalt, called for each fleet type commander to nominate a CO to attend a one week forum in Newport, RI, on Command Excellence . In CruDesPac there were six nominees. I was the one chosen to go. In Newport there were twelve of us from both Atlantic and Pacific, one each from Cruiser/Destroyers, Carriers, Amphibs, Service Force, Submarines and Patrol Aircraft. (I don t seem to remember any mine warfare guys). We all recounted our ideas. Interestingly, practically all of us had implemented many of the CNO s ideas, expressed in his notorious Z-Grams, long before he had become the CNO. The report was collated by a CNO rep on the Naval War College staff and we went back to our ships. There was never any particular publicity about this, but I later heard that our study had morphed into the Human Relations Detachments plan, where HRDs were in all home ports. This sociological twist was not something we all had envisioned.   

SIEGEL:  I think there were lots of surprises in that era of social engineering when we in the Navy learned that many of the enlightened policies that bedeviled us were self-imposed by our leadership. 

CULLINS: Unfortunately, yes, and certain elements seemed intent on reform that totally ignored the traditional strengths that made our Navy great. 

SIEGEL: You had reservations about the successful outcome of the ship s physical overhaul in the yard. How did it turn out? 

CULLINS: We survived the shipyard on May 20 and, unbelievably, without even getting to shake down those areas where the shipyard had violated us, (we were supposed to get 10 days of shakedown after the ROH), we had to beat feet to the San Diego op areas to put on a mini-war air/surface and underwater shoot for the Inter-America Defense Board (IADB). It went off beautifully, although it could have been a tragedy when our weaponeers put the gun director in full auto during a sled shoot, and the shots walked along the tow line to the tug, straddling it before I screamed Cease Fire! Of course the IADB members cheered, thinking that was supposed to happen. The tug was nice about being straddled, and I later sent him a fifth of scotch for his scare. 

SIEGEL: Admiral, you continued to have a firm grip on the rabbit s foot.  I d have thought at least a case of scotch would have been more appropriate. 

CULLINS:  And the best of it was that the IADB thought I was the reincarnation of Bull Halsey.  We then loaded ammo in Seal Beach and arrived back in San Diego 28 May. Our next coup was an appearance of our ship s band, the famous Waddell Revival, that was asked to play at the annual CruDesPac ball.  The real fun was when the ComCruDesPac band played only a few couples took to the floor. But, when the Revival came on and started blaring out rock music, a roar came up and the dance floor was crowded – including ComCruDesPac himself! And all of us were in Dress Whites! 

SIEGEL: That must have been a sight.  Did anyone get it on movie film? 

CULLINS: I don t know, but I d sure like a copy.  Back to work, we had the usual in and out business for three weeks, and I was relieved by CDR Al Herberger on the 26th of July, and I headed off to OpNav. I was happy with the kudos we d received (in October we also got the E for FY 72, the second consecutive year for Waddell).  Plus we got the Marjorie Sterett Battleship Award for the ship with the top readiness in the Cruiser Destroyer Force Pacific in FY 72). I was pretty weepy for leaving the Waddell, where the Revival piped me off with Jesus Christ Super Star and Charlie One was whining on the quarterdeck, because he knew from all of the ceremony that his father was going away. I was sick when I later found out that during the Waddell s next deployment, Charlie had bitten the new Commodore, who told Al Herberger to get rid of him. (Charlie s problem was that he had been stationed at the top of the ladder outside the CO s cabin, which was next to the Commodore s cabin, and he wouldn t let the Commodore up the ladder. So, Charlie pined his life away on a fleet tug in Subic). 

SIEGEL:  I m sure you were very proud of a command tour that had every element of excitement and success.  Your footnote on Charlie One is sad considering he was such a spark plug in Waddell s ship life.  What became of the Waddell Revival after your departure? 

CULLINS: The Waddell newspaper guy sent me copies throughout their next deployment, and, yes, the Revival did continue their act – ashore as well as at sea. So, I left my great days in the fleet behind and headed back to OpNav to work in the Ship Acquisition and Improvement Division (OP 97) for VADM Frank Price. It had previously been OP 37, but naturally there had been one of the frequent big reorganizations since I had last been in OpNav. I had the Cruiser-Destroyer desk, with two good former destroyer COs under me. We were intimately involved in the Ship s Characteristics business (naturally I stuffed more UHF radios in the NTDS ships) and particularly so in the Fleet Modernization Program (FMP). I had a couple of interesting episodes before I really started to work on the FMP. ADM Z.  had an occasional session with returning COs at OpNav. At that time there was a lot of concern about the 1200 pound steam engineering systems that the new DLG/DDGs had vice the older 600 psi steam plants. (Fires and  high pressure steam leaks were more dangerous than with 600 psi systems). The CNO talked about this and I sort of got on my horse saying that Waddell had never had more than two-thirds of her allowance of rated BTs (Boiler Tenders) (later on Technicians ) which meant essentially port and starboard for them while at sea, and that, if DDGs had been closer to allowance and been given a decently responsive spare parts system, there wouldn t be this many problems. Other DDG COs in the room were nodding yes. An interesting sidelight to this is that the CNO s gatekeepers had asked us to list what we wanted to talk about, in order to put together an agenda . The items I had listed that didn t make the cut included:

            *Aviation flight jackets for officers. No adequate cool weather and reasonably attractive jacket exists for the normal officer working uniform – tropical khaki. Aviation jackets are excellent, but not legal and not authorized. (Incidentally, I wore my Enterprise flight jacket the entire winter I was in Waddell in Westpac).

            *Guidance would be appreciated to flag officers not to sign testimonials for encyclopedia salesmen and insurance salesmen. It can sway the troops. (Shades of my Ensign experience in Rogers!)

            *Higher command policy dictates – rightfully – prompt and correct ceremony for many facets of enlisted life – reenlistments. Retirements, etc. Yet, this was not so external to the ship level. Twice more than six months elapsed before the award of the Squadron Battle Efficiency E to Waddell, and then the awards had to be faked, since they were not available. At this late date many who had contributed significantly had already been detached. Consideration and reward downward should be external to a ship as well as internal.

            *To reiterate a point raised earlier by me to the CNO, and included in the Command Excellence Forum Report, no other multimillion dollar corporation wastes the time of its most vital resource – manpower – like the Navy, due to the lack of dedicated telephone and transportation services while pierside. 

SIEGEL: That s quite a scrub list.  Are you saying you never got any feedback on any of these? 

CULLINS: I don t know if this had any impact, but ADM Z took me with him to testify (just the two of us) before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Subcommittee on Readiness, about my experiences in keeping Waddell ready in material matters. I gave my adequate spare parts spiel, i.e. that if it was better we would all do just fine. I got a nice letter from ADM Z afterwards. (Incidentally mouse-like freshman Congresswoman Patsy Schroeder was a member of that subcommittee). 

SIEGEL: You obviously impressed the big boss with your forceful and candid testimony.  After your appearance in Congress, did you see any significant improvement in the 1200 psi system manning and spare parts support? 

CULLINS: It took quite a while. BT manning improved a bit, but it took a lot longer for the fixes to come about. After the charge I got from the satisfaction of my hearing attendance with ADM Z, it was back to my real job. I had an interesting visit to the House Armed Services Committee in April of 72. They were investigating the failure rate of Navy SAMs. CAPT Jack Hilton, ex-CO of a double-ender DLG 26 class, said that he had had a 75% success rate in his SAM firings. Frank Slatinshek, the counsel, said the Fleet was averaging 50%. I piped up and said that averages were misleading, as it included everything from RefTra to SQT (System Qualifying Trials usually held after missile system fixes or ROH/RAV periods), including pre-deployment firings, with the expected wide range of results. And that the Tiger CO s would pick regions of the envelope to test the missile under the most demanding of circumstances. Sure, we could fire at incoming 20K height targets and get a high success rate. (I told them the story that in Waddell I had fired ASROCs, (the Anti-submarine Rocket with a homing torpedo attached) during competitive exercises, at its max range of 10,000 yards against a submarine target, and had a 33% kill rate. But that didn t mean that ASROC was a dog . CO s who had an eye on success rate could fire at 2000 yards and get a 90% success rate. 

SEGEL:  That s a remarkably illuminating appraisal of weapon system accuracy and the variations in the analytical approach of evaluating system effectiveness. 

CULLINS: That was the last of my trips to Capitol Hill, it was time to concentrate on the FMP.