Admiral R. E. Coontz
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.