Robert Edward Coontz, born in Hannibal, Mo., on 11 June 1864, graduated in the Naval Academy Class of 1885, and served in the screw sloops-of-war Mohican and Juniata, the screw steamer Galena, and the protected cruiser Atlanta before he received his ensign's commission in 1887. He assisted in the development of the first modern signal code used by the Navy, and served in Alaskan waters and on the Great Lakes.
Duty in the Bureau of Navigation, correcting and updating officer records, followed. During this time, he worked toward the formulation of legislation favorably affecting junior officers. Coontz later served with the Coast and Geodetic Survey; and, in the cruiser Charleston, took part in the seizure of Guam and the bombardment of Manila during the Spanish-American War.
After returning home he began almost a decade of sea duty, interrupted only by a brief tour with the Bureau of Equipment. As executive officer of Nebraska (Battleship No. 14), he took part in the cruise of the "Great White Fleet" from 1907 to 1909.
Duty at the Naval Academy led to the office of Commandant of Midshipmen. Following service in the Bureau of Inspection and Survey he became Governor of Guam in April 1912. After exercising "efficient and enlightened" leadership in that island possession, Coontz assumed command of Georgia (Battleship No. 15), and saw expeditionary service in Mexican and Haitian waters during 1914.
As commandant of the Puget Sound Navy Yard and the 13th Naval District from 1915 to 1918, Coontz won the Distinguished Service Medal. Becoming acting Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in December 1918 while Admiral William S. Benson was on special duty in London, Coontz assisted the General Board in preparing a plan for a possible international navy under the League of Nations to maintain world peace.
Given command of a battleship division in January 1919, Coontz supported the July 1919 flight of the NC flying boats across the Atlantic. After serving as Commander, Battleship Division 6, Pacific Fleet in September and October, Coontz became Chief of Naval Operations on 1 November 1919.
During his tour as CNO from 1919 to 1925, Coontz achieved much despite the rapid demobilization of the Navy in the postwar years. He improved the organization and management of the Navy Department, and he strengthened the position of CNO in relation to the bureau chiefs. He realized the importance of aviation and submarines to the fleet, and advocated establishment of the Naval Research Laboratory in 1921. Under his direction a combined United States Fleet was formed. In the words of one biographer, Coontz "effectively encouraged experimentation and supported change, despite the constraints of the budget, politics, and the national mood."
Following his term as CNO, Coontz became Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet. Maneuvers in Hawaiian waters in 1925 were the largest ever conducted by the assembled fleet. In the fall of 1925, Coontz became Commandant of the 5th Naval District and commanding officer of the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk. Following his retirement in 1928, Coontz was recalled briefly to active duty in 1930 to investigate Alaskan railroads. He became national commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1932 and, that same year, represented Alaska at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Coontz died on 26 January 1935 in the naval hospital at Bremerton, Wash.
(AP-122: dp. 23,500 (f.); l. 609'; b. 76'; dr. 27' (max.); s. 22 k.; cpl. 367; trp. 4,680; a. 4 5", 8 40mm., 28 20mm.; cl. Admiral W. S. Benson; T. P2-SE2-R1)
Admiral R. E. Coontz (AP-122) was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 680) on 15 January 1943 at Alameda, Calif., by the Bethlehem Steel Corp.; launched on 22 April 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Edwin Kokko, daughter of Admiral Coontz; and commissioned on 21 November 1944, Capt. Montford R. Tawes, USNR, in command.
Following shakedown training out of San Pedro, Calif., the transport embarked troops at San Francisco and sailed for the western Pacific on 3 January 1945. After pausing briefly at Pearl Harbor she reached Ulithi, in the Western Carolines, on 23 January and served there as station ship until 19 March when she headed homeward. Admiral R. E. Coontz made one additional voyage from San Francisco to Ulithi. On her return she touched at San Francisco and San Diego, transited the Panama Canal, and pushed on across the Atlantic to France. She embarked troops for transfer to the Pacific theater; cleared Marseilles on 21 July; and reached Pearl Harbor on 12 August. Underway soon again, she paused at Eniwetok, Saipan, and Guam en route to Ulithi which she reached on 28 August, almost a fortnight after Japan capitulated.
Leaving the Western Carolines on 12 September, Admiral R. E. Coontz sailed for Okinawa, whence she sailed on 27 September for the west coast of the United States. Making port at Bremerton, Wash., the transport embarked occupation troops before getting underway for Japan on 24 October. After disembarking troops at Nagasaki on 6 November and at Nagoya two days later, Admiral R. E. Coontz then made two round-trip voyages between Yokohama and Seattle. She then proceeded to Okinawa to embark passengers for the return voyage to the United States. Sailing for Hawaii, the transport embarked more troops at Pearl Harbor and reached New York City on 11 March 1945.
She entered the Todd Shipyard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 17 March 1946 and was decommissioned there on the 25th. Stricken from the Navy list in April 1946 and turned over to the War Department, the ship underwent a period of repairs and alterations and was renamed General Alexander M. Patch, honoring General Alexander McCarrell Patch, commander of the 7th Army in the invasion of Southern France in 1944.
In the Army Transport Service, General Alexander M. Patch carried troops and cargo between Europe and the United States from 1946 to 1950. Reacquired by the Navy on 3 March 1950, the ship operated for the next two decades as USNS Alexander M. Patch (T-AP-122) with the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), later renamed the Military Sealift Command (MSC). From 1950 to 1965 the ship conducted 123 round-trip voyages between Bremerhaven and New York, with an additional 16 voyages to the Mediterranean. Among her passengers was Mrs. Alexander M. Patch, the widow of the general for whom the ship had been named.
Among her operations was the embarkation of over 1,500 refugees during the Suez Crisis in November 1956. The transport took them from Suda Bay, Crete, where they had been brought from Alexandria, Egypt, and Haifa, Israel, by American warships, to Naples. Late in 1961, during the international tensions spawned by the Soviets' closure of access to West Berlin, General Alexander M. Patch participated in the massive lift of American troops to Europe.
In August 1965, growing American involvement in the Vietnam War prompted the transfer of MSTS ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. General Alexander M. Patch commenced her first Vietnam voyage at New York on 15 August. Steaming via Charleston, S.C., and Long Beach, Calif., the transport reached Qui Nhon, South Vietnam, on 16 September. Returning-via Cam Ranh Bay, Vung Tau, and Okinawa-to San Francisco on 2 October, the ship conducted one more voyage to Vietnam in 1965, reaching Vung Tau on 9 November. Clearing Vung Tau later that day, she returned to New York by way of Penang, Malaysia; Rota, Spain; and Bremerhaven.
For the first six months of 1966, General Alexander M. Patch operated between New York and Bremerhaven. The Vietnam War once again compelled MSTS to switch some of its transports to the Pacific. General Alexander M. Patch and her sistership, General William O. Darby (T-AP-127), embarked of the Army's 196th Light Infantry Brigade at Boston and departed on 15 July. Transiting the Panama Canal, the two transports reached Vung Tau, South Vietnam, on 13 August, ending the longest (12,358 nautical miles) point-to-point troop lift in the 17 years that MSTS had been in operation. Before the year was out, General Alexander M. Patch conducted two troop lifts of ROK (Republic of Korea) troops from Pusan to South Vietnam.
Placed in reserve in New York's upper bay along with three of her sisterships by the summer of 1967, General Alexander M. Patch was transferred to the custody of the Maritime Administration on 26 May 1970 and placed in reserve in the James River. Still carried on the Naval Vessel Register, she remains in the James River berthing area of the National Defense Reserve Fleet into mid-1985.