September 3, 2014

 




Interview:
Peter Cuneo

By Brian Jacks



 

For last year's Memorial Day, I decided to do something different: interview comic industry members solely about their military experiences.  In May of 2001, I interviewed Will Eisner, Dan DeCarlo, Joe Kubert, and Doug Murray.  The reaction was fantastic, and hopefully reminded Slush readers to remember what the holiday is supposed to be about.  This year I decided on a slightly different tact: Instead of interviewing a creator, I would interview an executive.  

Marvel Enterprises CEO Peter Cuneo is more than a brilliant businessman who has turned around such well-known brand names as Remington and Marvel, he's also a decorated Vietnam Veteran.  Following a family tradition, he joined the Navy as a young ensign, and entered the Vietnam fray on a guided missile destroyer.

Peter's is one of many stories from millions of American ex-servicemen.  On this day of remembrence, Slush urges you to keep in mind why we have Memorial Day, what it means, and what the United States military has done to protect the free interests of the entire world. 

 

You were born at Alameda Naval Air Station in World War II. What did your father do in the Navy?

My father was a Navy fighter pilot in WWII.

How much of an influence was your father on you in your decision to join the Navy?

My father was a big influence. There was a tradition in my father of service in the Navy during wartime. So, for example, my father and my uncle, who Iím very close with, both served in World War II and Korea.

So many Navy brats grow up and join the Army, but you followed through.

Well, I had very positive feelings about the Navy from my childhood. I had followed my father around to a number of naval bases. Of course, I lived at Alameda in Oakland, California, but I had also lived in San Diego, where there is a big navy base, and also in Pensacola, Florida, Bremerton, Washington, and Philadelphia. Actually he was at the Philadelphia Naval Yard for a while perfecting the steam catapult for carriers. And I had a chance as a young kid to go aboard many navy ships, where I was always treated like a king. So I had a very positive feeling.

Was it a positive experience growing up on navy bases?

Absolutely.

When you eventually joined the Navy you went in through the Officer Candidate School. Why did you go that route as opposed to the ROTC?

I did my undergraduate at Alfred University in upstate New York and they didnít have a Navy ROTC program.

Where did you complete your OCS training?

Newport, Rhode Island. It was 16 weeks.

When you graduated from OCS were you allowed to pick your specialty?

No, but if you were in the top 10% of the class you were able to pick your assignment.

What did you pick?

I wanted to be on destroyers in the Pacific. So I got an assignment to the USS Joseph Strauss, a guided missile destroyer homeported in Pearl Harbor.

And who exactly was Joseph Strauss?

Joseph Strauss was the father of mine warfare in the United States Navy. He was an admiral who had a very distinguished career around the First World War.

Iím assuming you realized when you picked your specialty that you would be deployed to Southeast Asia.

Absolutely, I assumed it.

How long after you received your commission were you deployed to the Vietnam Theater?

Three months. On the way to my ship I did additional training in San Diego and Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

I know a few things about the Navy, one being that new officers to a ship are typically assigned to Damage Control.

Yes, that was my assignment.

It must have been interesting serving as Damage Control Officer while the ship was engaged in active wartime operations.

It was a very positive experience. Luckily the ship wasnít hit while I was Damage Control Officer. It was mostly drills.

In 1965, two F-4 Phantoms under the control of the Joseph Strauss downed two MiGs, accounting for the first hostile aircraft shot down by the US since 1953.

That occurred before I got to the ship. I got there in 1968. And I was also an air-intercept controller.

Did that fall under your Communications Officer duties?

That was part of my collateral duties. In other words, on a Navy ship, you really have three sets of duties. You have a ship-driving duty: for example, youíre on the bridge. There are various qualifications to go through, and eventually you want to become qualified for whatís called Officer of the Deck (Fleet), which means you are qualified to drive the ship during fleet operations. Thatís the highest qualification.

When the ship is in port, thereís also a qualification called Command Duty Officer, which in effect allows you to become captain of the ship in port when the captain has gone ashore. Those are the two big ship-driving and ship-wide responsibilities that you want to obtain, and which I did obtain.

You also have a functional job, and I was Damage Control Officer and later Communications Officer.

Thirdly, you also have what are called collateral duties, which could be treasurer of the officerís mess, or keeper of registered publications - these are all the secret codes, which was one of my collateral duties because I was Communications Officer. Another collateral duty is to be an air-intercept controller. My responsibility was basically to send our jets against the MiGs over North Vietnam.

I spent three years on Strauss. You fall in love with your ship in the navy. Itís an inanimate object, but because of your experiences you generate love for the ship and a strong bond with your shipmates.

What were some additional duties you fulfilled in your role as Communications Officer?

Itís really just what you would think. The ship has various forms of communications, primarily radio, but also signaling, so we have a signal bridge where we would signal to other ships. I was in charge of making sure that we had qualified people to run those functions. I also insured that the secret codes were protected, and maintained appropriately, as well as understanding the equipment functionally.


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