U.S.S. LITTLE ROCK Crew Member's
Oral History given by

Rear Admiral Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret.)


Page last updated: 15 March, 2020

Old Salts

U.S.S. Little Rock Association

This website's extract from the Oral History of Rear Admiral Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret.) is part of a series of interviews conducted by Capt. Kent R. Siegel USN (Ret.) for the Naval Historical Foundation Oral History Program. The entire 174-page oral history concentrates on Rear Admiral Cullins' naval career, along with short descriptions of his youth and post Navy retirement work.

Capt. Kent Siegel is the coordinator of the USS Little Rock Association oral history project; thus the part allocated to RADM Cullins' command tour in Little Rock is proportionally long, and only that part of RADM Cullins' career history is presented here. Other subjects discussed in the interview that may be of particular interest to the reader can be obtained from the Naval Historical Foundation.

Captain Siegel relates in his review, published by the Naval Historical Foundation Oral History Program, the following:
Cullins is introduced to the reader with a fairly detailed biography, as summarized here. He was born in Annapolis, Maryland, into a Navy family and grew up in Annapolis, Long Beach and Hawaii where his father, a USNA '21 graduate, was navigator in the battleship Oklahoma.  Young Peter well remembers the Japanese raid there on 7 December 1941. Peter attended Valley Forge Military Academy, the University of Houston (1 year) and the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1951. His Navy career followed a typical cruiser-destroyer officer's pattern with a notable exception. He fashioned an extensive area of sub-specialty expertise in the newly-emerging fields of guided missile and data automation technology from key shore duty assignments. This he took with him when rotating back to sea duty where he applied new ideas and refined his skill.
The oral history sketches the personal adventures, misadventures, achievements, and some admitted failures of this complex and fascinating man. Peter Cullins, first of all, was a superb sea-going officer who learned his craft well, becoming a skillful ship handler, a technical innovator, an effective team builder, and a bold offensive-minded commander. He took a tough pioneering spirit into every endeavor, often questioning the status quo and not infrequently 'fighting the system'. (The reader will note that in his USNA graduating class of 725, he stood 725th in conduct and probably wonders how he managed to avoid expulsion,) It was undoubtedly these unique features of his character that gave him the ability to forge into areas of new technology with constant energy and stubborn persistence. Throughout this chronology, Cullins relied often on journal entries that he made on a regular basis. There is no aspect of Cullins recall that is more entertaining than his sea stories which he tells with the flair of a man who loved sea duty and shipboard life, and possessed tremendous self-confidence. He is able to provide the detail that only a diary could provide, and charms the reader with his wry wit and droll sense of humor.
Perhaps the most important feature of this oral history is the admiral's description of technological progress in naval warfare in the 1960's - 70's. There will be great value here for the student or researcher interested in those developments. His personal involvement is covered in detail and he never shies from expressing his thoughts and opinions. It started when he was a Lieutenant (JG) attending the first Guided Missile Officers' Course at Convair's Terrier guided missile plant in Pomona, California. From there, he was detailed to USS Boston (CAG 1) for its Terrier installation and OPEVAL, and while deployed in the Med, authored the Sixth Fleet Air Defense Guide. Still a Lieutenant, he was sent to shore duty at Fleet Air Defense Training Center in San Diego where he developed and instructed a course for senior officers, then moved to the Navy Electronics Lab to attend the first course in Basic Operational Computer Programming. Armed with this new knowledge, he assisted with the installation and check-out of NTDS in USS Oriskany  (CVA 34). Then as a new Lieutenant Commander, he joined the pre-commissioning crew of USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), the first ship to go to sea with NTDS and the advance technology fixed array radar. His two years on board added greatly to the ship's tactical successes in its early active service.
Following his executive officer tour in USS Luce (DLG 7) and attendance in the junior course at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, Lieutenant Commander Cullins reported to USS Long Beach (CGN 9) as the operations officer.  In view of his NTDS and missile know-how, he was spot promoted to Commander and became something of a heroic figure with the moniker "Red Baron", as he established the ship's advanced tactics in Viet Nam's Tonkin Gulf PIRAZ (Positive identification and Radar Advisory Zone). The Talos SAM missile was now a part of the ship's air defense arsenal and he fought hard to get release authorization for its operational use against intruder aircraft. Having become an officer on the elite short list of NTDS/guided missile experts, he was detailed back to OPNAV where he was assigned as Head, Joint and Allied Tactical Data Systems Branch in the Surface Warfare Directorate. While on a trip to visit PIRAZ related units in WestPac, he saw the fulfillment of his efforts to use Talos in anger...the splash of a North Vietnamese MIG by Long Beach.
His command tour in USS Wadell  (DDG 24) was followed by another stint in OPNAV that involved directing surface ship acquisition and improvement. He was promoted to Captain in July 1972 , and it was then on to a second ship command in USS Little Rock CLG 4, a Talos ship that served as Sixth Fleet flagship in the Med through most of his tour. Returning then to OPNAV, he became Head, Surface Warfare Plans and Programs Branch, a tour interrupted by selection and frocking as Rear Admiral in January 1976 when his strong automation background resulted in his being directed to form a Navy business computer command. The bureaucratic twists and turns he faced in this endeavor are a classic case of  the policy battles required  to wrest control from the many jealous commands and entities that did not want to give up 'turf'.  After a 3-year effort, the result was a functioning NAVDAC (Naval Data Automation Command). During this time, Cullins forged a close working relationship with the legendary Grace Hopper.
Those interested in an operator's view of political-military matters and complicated aspects of international affairs, will want to read Cullins' discussion of his COMSOLANT UNITAS cruise around South America and the WATC (West Africa Training Cruise). He made interesting observations about the often tangled and overlapping lines of command and control among the various U.S. military commands and government agencies that had (or tried to have) a piece of the action that guided national policy south of the Mexican border. His comparisons of the capabilities of the South American navies with whom his force worked are also instructive. Some of his encounters with West African leaders were adrenaline - pumpers and left him wondering if he'd escape with his skin, both literally and professionally.

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The portion of RADM Cullins' Oral History pertaining to his time with the USS Little Rock CLG 4 is presented in several segments, chronologically arranged. Click on any segment to read about events related to the Little Rock during that period of time.

Segment 7     Segment 8     Segment 9     Segment 10     Segment 11

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