February 18, 2018


Peter Cuneo

By Brian Jacks


Was the Strauss part of a carrier battle group?

No, we operated independently, or occasionally in pairs.

In the Vietnam Theater, what type of action did a destroyer such as yours typically find itself in? You mentioned air intercepts. Were there any other functions?

We had naval gunfire support, both in North and South Vietnam. Which essentially means, in the case of the North, we would run at flank speed towards land, and then turn parallel to the coast, and fire. We had five-inch 54-caliber guns with a range of twelve miles, which meant we could fire at targets as far as eleven miles inland. Normally the targets were chosen by spotters in light aircraft.

Usually Pipers?

Usually, Yes.

They lost a lot of guys doing that.

Terrible. They wouldnít have gotten me to do that job. Really dangerous job. If we were shot at we could run away. In a sense we had it much easier than those poor guys in-country who were potentially under fire 24 hours a day. We didnít have that kind of stress. If were fired at, and chose to do so, we could run out to sea.

In the South we would do naval gunfire support as well, but there was less danger to our ship. They werenít guarding the coast like they were in the North.

We would also plane guard for carriers. This simply means that when carriers in the Tonkin Gulf launched or recovered aircraft, there would typically be a destroyer one mile in front, and another destroyer one mile to the rear to plane guard. That meant that if aircraft landing or being catapulted went into the water, we could be there to hopefully recover the pilots.

Did that ever occur while you were there?

Actually it did happen, but not under my watch.

We also did Search and Rescue off North Vietnam, called SAR, in which our damaged aircraft over North Vietnam would try to reach the water so they could ditch and we could pick them up. We had activity in that area. We even did some missions along the coast of mainland China.

The Strauss didnít carry a helicopter, correct?

No. The DDGs were designed for just what it sounds like: missile defense. We had the standard TARTAR missiles with a 20-mile range.

Iím not too familiar with the TARTARs. Are those ship-to-air or ship-to-ground?

Ship-to-air. We also had five-inch rapid-fire guns, ASROC rockets, which are for subs, and regular torpedoes.

What was life like for crews of destroyers deployed in the Vietnam Theater? Was there a lot of waiting?

You have a certain amount of time transiting from Pearl Harbor to the war zone. We would typically be on the gun line, we called it, which would represent all of those activities, for roughly 30 days at a time. And then we would go for R&R (Rest and Relaxation) to a port for a timeframe of usually four to seven days. The R&R would be in places like Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan. And then when we returned from our deployments on the way back to Pearl Harbor we did R&R in Australia and New Zealand. So typically we were in the combat zone for 30 days at a time, R&R for 4-7 days, and then back again. And we would replenish at sea. We were constantly replenishing fuel and supplies and ammunition in the Tonkin Gulf.

Did you enjoy the promotion from Damage Control to Communications? Thatís a pretty big jump, isnít it?

Well, it was a jump, but remember I went from Ensign to full lieutenant on that ship over the course of three years. Looking back, I will tell you that my time on the Strauss, although there were moments of stress, was a wonderful experience. The war itself was a terrible experience and it was completely wrong for us to be there. But my experience on the ship and the camaraderie with the guys I fought with was incredible.

When did you leave the service?

I left active duty when I went to graduate school in September of 1971.

Iím assuming the reason you left was to attend the university.

Yes. I had been offered a long-term career in the Navy, but, and it was a combination of things, I was more interested in pursuing a career in business. And my wife wasnít wild about the Navy life.

What values do you think you took away from your military service?

I feel much of who I am today came from that experience. Generally speaking, the officers in the Navy were outstanding people. Outstanding people, outstanding leaders. I canít comment on the other services, Iím sure they had their share of good officers, but I can say that I was privileged, and I mean this, to serve under some super people on the Strauss. I learned a great deal as a young guy. I was very young and impressionable, and I learned a lot about leading people and managing assets and I utilize so much of that today. Itís a tremendous part of whatever business success Iíve had.

That leads right into my next question: What values that you learnt in the Navy do you apply on an everyday basis in your business career?

Iíd say the values of leadership and how to lead an organization. When youíre in the Navy youíre given a lot of responsibility for a young person. As an Officer of the Deck underway with fleet operations, although the captain was on the bridge, I technically had responsibility for the entire ship - 350 men, 400 feet long, 20,000 metric tons. This is a big piece of machinery in times of extreme stress. How many 23 year-old guys get that chance? So I had a tremendous amount of responsibility at a young age.

I donít think leaders are born. I truly believe they learn leadership skills and principles both from their parents and then from the people they work with. Good leaders are made, not born.

I wonít put you on the spot by asking you about comics, but I do wonder whether you feel that the entertainment industry as a whole has been fair to the military and those who serve in it.

I feel that the entertainment business over the past five years has been very positive on the military and has accurately portrayed how terrible war is. I think of so many great productions. Certainly Spielbergís Saving Private Ryan was a wonderful movie but also brutally realistic. HBOís Band of Brothers is one of the finest things Iíve ever seen on television. Very accurate. Black Hawk Down was very well done. Generally speaking, Hollywood is treating the military very fairly.

This is a question nobody can really answer, but do you think that the wave of patriotism that weíve seen since September 11th will continue?

Iíd like to think so. For somebody who has been in the military, and youíve heard this from many Vietnam vets, my treatment when I was home on leave or after Vietnam was pretty bad. I wonít go into the details but being a Vietnam veteran was not very popular. We were viewed as evil by many Americans. And, of course, thatís not what we were thinking at all. We may have been wrong politically, but we were there to do something we thought was right for the country. At least when we started we were generally very idealistic. Once we got involved in the conflict, of course, we all got a heavy dose of reality.

I think a certain portion of the country was very down on the military for probably a generation. It seemed to turn around during Desert Storm, which was very positive in regard to the American publicís view of the military. And, as horrible as it is to say, I think 9/11 has given it an additional boost. Itís a boost Iíd rather not have had. Iíd prefer that 9/11 not had happened.

On a closing note, what would you like people to keep in mind as we enter the Memorial Day holiday?

In my opinion, Memorial Day takes on a little bit of a different aura for most Americans because Memorial Day, in the past has been, frankly, a long weekend. There were some parades and such honoring our servicemen, but I donít think many Americans, particularly the newer generations, were particularly emotional about it. When we go all the way back through the history of America, certainly in the militaryís role there have been mistakeís made, but the military has been a very important part of Americaís progress and our honor. If most Americans can be a little emotional about Memorial Day in the future, thatíd be wonderful.

Slush thanks Peter Cuneo both for his participation in this interview and for his service to our country.  We implore everyone to do what Peter suggests and remember what Memorial Day stands for.  Be sure to check out last year's interviews with Doug Murray, Dan DeCarlo, Will Eisner, and Joe Kubert.

Interview with Will Eisner

Interview with Joe Kubert

Interview with Dan DeCarlo

Interview with Doug Murray

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