Crew Member's Oral History provided by:

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

Interview Segment 9
Nov 1973 - Sep 1974

Page last updated: 15 March, 2020

U.S.S. Little Rock Association

The following is Segment 9, one of many segments from the Oral History of Rear Admiral Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret.). Five interviews pertaining to RADM Cullins' time aboard USS Little Rock CLG 4 are provided, numbered as Segments 7 thru 11. The segments are in chronological order. The entire 174-page Oral History which concentrates on Rear Admiral Cullins' naval career, along with short descriptions of his youth and post Navy retirement work can be obtained from the Naval Historical Foundation.

Interviewee:  RADM Peter K. Cullins, USN (Ret)

Interviewer:  CAPT Kent R. Siegel, USN (Ret)

SIEGEL: Good day, Admiral. When we completed Part Eight, you were looking at means to stabilize the racial climate on board after the legal distractions in Naples.

CULLINS: Right, Kent, and this time I’ve come armed with notes so I can give you some facts and figures to support my observations back then.

SIEGEL:  How did you approach the rather delicate task of reducing racial tensions?

CULLINS: I had to first move into the broader task of improving the comfort level of the crew and dependents in their new circumstances of our deployment.  Upon return to Gaeta from 18 November, we had about two weeks to see dependents squared away and get the shoreside administrative machinery going. Of course, taking a long look at the race problems sort of took a high place in our priority list. There were two new ‘programs’ that I instituted. We set aside one hour every Wednesday morning, immediately after quarters, for a ‘rap session’ with the Division Officers, CPOs, LPOs and all hands in the division. Nothing else was scheduled for the next hour, so that people could get things off their chest.

SIEGEL: With the many divisions in the Rock, I assume you started with the deck divisions, then moved to the others that had a significant number of minorities.

CULLINS: Yes, and we brought in the mess cooks with their parent divisions. The second innovation was a meeting in my cabin every 10 days or so where the senior black ‘facilitators’ (they were all good – first class or chiefs) picked five minority-group sailors at random and five white sailors (1 CPO, 1 PO1, 1PO2 and 2 younger sailors) for about three hours of discussions. Interestingly in the first three or four of these sessions in my cabin, none of the complaints were racial in nature, but were on subjects common to all young sailors, particularly in communications top-down.

SIEGEL: That was a refreshing shift to a normal shipboard leadership challenge.

CULLINS: That it was, so we broadened our attention to morale-lifting measures for the entire crew. In this regard, I instituted a weekly “Talk to the Captain” show (as in Waddell, but with CCTV this time). I would answer any written note to me that was placed in a mail-box outside the studio, as long as it wasn’t obscene or a smear of a shipmate. This got me in a bit of trouble later when answering questions about the Admiral or the staff. For example, after the ‘October War’ and the resultant high crude oil prices with Jimmy Carter turning off the lights at the White House, etc., in late January or so, the Admiral put out a memo to us all to conserve, walk more etc. But, every morning the crew saw him arrive at the ‘fleet landing’ and get into his barge for the short trip to the ship, rather than walk down the pier to board. So I got a gripe about that. I answered by saying that it was important to keep the barge in good shape, and that’s why he probably did it. I got a rocket from the new COS saying that I was not to ever again read out anything which could be considered as ‘slamming’ the staff. This was to include the irritation of our sailors at having to be the compartment cleaners for the staff enlisted compartment.

SIEGEL: Talk about censorship. At least you got the satisfaction of knowing the staff was watching your show.

CULLINS: True, and I somewhat screened all the notes in advance with the staff’s thin skin in mind. The really valid ones that had to do with irritation with the staff I had to use, just to keep my self respect. We also established a monthly Human Relations Council, frequent announcements from the black facilitators and Minority Affairs Advisor, plus daily Captain’s Request Mast announcements in the POD (Plan of the Day).  I don’t remember how many takers there were, if any, for the Request Masts: I imagine the XO took care of them.

All of the above couldn’t totally dampen the young black sailors’ unhappiness. The complaints addressed on the mess decks in our last interview were a real source of complaints to them, but our new sessions brought out that their ‘volunteering’ for overseas afloat duty was a ‘con job’. They felt that they were sold down the river at boot camp, as to the attractiveness of the Mediterranean. None of them really knew upon reporting aboard what their PRD (Projected Rotation Date) would be, and now that their PRDs were set at 24 months they were agonizing at facing 20 more months over here and being away from home for the first time, feeling culture shock etc. We had about 50 young black sailors aboard at this time, so the challenge to me, other than to improve communications up and down, was to find a mix of social, athletic (particularly athletic), and recreational events, and shoot for as many good liberty ports as I could get through the staff. I’ll probably address these ‘challenges’ later on, as if they happened altogether at once, because it is too hard on my memory to remember the exact period in the two years that they occurred.

SIEGEL: There’s no need to apologize. I’m amazed at the clarity of your recall with so much going on in that period, and much of this was not isolated incidents but part of a continuing situation.

CULLINS: There were fires to put out, but first let me tell you about our visit to Tunis, Tunisia from 6 to 9 December. It was delightful except for me having to take the conn from the pilot who didn’t realize how much horsepower we had under the hood and scared hell out of me with wild ahead and backing maneuvers. Tunisia had been a French protectorate since 1883 until independence in the late 1950s. We enjoyed the marvelous people, the best beaches in the Med along their eastern coast, and visits to the ruins of Carthage, with Roman aqueducts and a Roman coliseum in the desert.

SIEGEL: That sounds like the ‘good times’; I’ve got a feeling you’re going to tell me about the ‘bad times’ to come.

CULLINS: You’ve got that right. We returned to Gaeta for a month on 11 December. ‘Pill popping’ became an epidemic. I’ve talked about how our sailors could buy uppers and downers, particularly ‘Reds’ (Magriz), and Seconal, in any Italian pharmacy, and ‘hash’ on the street. We had people passing out on board, going berserk in the engineering spaces, stopping breathing in their apartments ashore, getting busted by the Carabinieri in their apartments. Sending these people to Naples to the ‘CAC’ (drying out center) didn’t work because they were berthed with all of the flotsam and jetsam of the Med, and Naples was worse than Gaeta regarding drug availability. Ultimately, in spite of our establishing Drug Facilitators (we sent four EMs and one officer off to Rota for Drug Facilitator training); we just had to bite the bullet and get rid of these chronic offenders.

SIEGEL: This had to be a tough go for you, and the XO and his Executive Department with all of the disciplinary action and personnel processing that was necessary.

CULLINS: It was indeed. Turning to my mayoral duties, we did have a lot of things to talk about with the NSA Det Gaeta. We were able to trim some of the fat there. We managed to cut 8 or so, down to 26 when the ship was at sea, and in port from 49 down to 35 (perhaps understandable as the dependents got settled). None of these were ’authorized’ billets anywhere -- they came out of our hide -- shore patrol, motor pool (required 18 people, mostly staff requirements), community center manager and his assistant. Add to this the troubleshooters who ‘investigated’ problems and ‘assisted’ dependents (sometimes in ‘un-shipmate’ ways).   It’s nice to ‘home port’ in a foreign country, but an adequate ‘shore establishment’ doesn’t enter into the equation. Perhaps it is necessary politically, but most American military are not capable of existing in a foreign country without substantial support. What it meant was that although we were short about 55 leaders (CPO/PO1/2) when we arrived, we had to send an additional 15 or so to the shore establishment. So we were 75 or so leaders short for the follow-on 9-12 months.  (It would be interesting to hear about the ‘horrors’ experienced by the destroyer squadron homeported in Athens.)

SIEGEL: I certainly had an opportunity to get to understand the shore side requirements that stretched ship’s manning so thin. Our big American need for support came as a surprise to me as I always thought my countrymen were more independent and resourceful than that.

CULLINS: I should mention that, facilities-wise, NSA Det ultimately had a small PX, a community center, an EM Club (CPOs had a part of it), eventually a racquetball court on the ‘fleet landing’ where I started my to-date 38 year RB career, and the so-called ‘Sixth Fleet Tennis Courts’ (next to the former ComSixthFlt quarters in Formia, I might add), with other funded or unfunded ‘plans’. There also was a rather rundown Italian Officers Club in Gaeta, near the ‘Gut’, only used by a very few Italians. In a talk with the senior Italian officer, Colonel Esposito, I got permission for our officers to use the club (with the implied agreement that we would ‘upgrade’ it.)  And, I should mention that NSA Det was essentially given the same mission as the Fleet Support Office for the Submarine Base in La Maddalena, Sardinia, but they had 15 officers – Gaeta had one; they had 50 enlisted to Gaeta’s three; 9 US civilians to Gaeta’s three; 18 local nationals to Gaeta’s five, yet Gaeta’s population to support was double that of La Mad. It’s a small wonder NSA Det Gaeta needed a lot of augmentation from the flagship!

SIEGEL: I think we can credit LCDR Dwight Avis, the Gaeta Det. O in C, for his perseverance in keeping things going with very limited money, people, properties and equipment.

CULLINS: Right, Dwight was a solid citizen. I didn’t always agree with his decisions or justifications for more of my people, but you had to admire his hard work and sincere interest in making life better for our people.

As I’ve said, most of the aforementioned facilities were staffed by us, but we also had a constant flow of TAD folks, or attendance at meetings ad-nauseum for all of our ‘social worker’ initiatives, plus those directed by higher authority during these troubling times of the early-middle 70s. From what I see in my files, the following was a day I noted with crew members absent for most if not all of it:

20 for ‘Upwards’ – 2 days
15 for ICR (Inter-Cultural Relations, or some such) – 2 days (the Naples people wanted 50 at a crack).
4 TAD as Drug Facilitators.
 22 all afternoon at the monthly H.R. Council meeting.
12 at the Striker Selection Board (I put a lot of pressure on them to take a chance on any of our minority sailors on the deck force who showed any interest or aptitude at all for a more technical division).
10 for the Sea Breeze EM club BOD meeting.
9   CRD/LCDR all day for a Drug Seminar.

SIEGEL: I certainly hope that was an extra heavy day and not a ‘typical’ one.

CULLINS: It’s more typical than I’d have liked. This all made it tough to do PMS, PQS and keep the ship up.

    To illustrate the toll ‘homeporting’ took on us, the following stats, from my notes; indicate the seriousness of the problem of relatively ‘unscreened’ (mostly by the Recruit Commands) non–rated sailors. More than half of the sailors we got since departure CONUS had no indication in their service records of being screened for overseas homeporting, which was an official requirement... The following stats of those being transferred between our arrival in Gaeta and the end of 1973 illustrate what a problem this caused us. (It is interesting that each category is roughly about 1 % of the crew which varied between 850 and 900):

1% of the crew transferred due to drug use. (Another was 1% awaiting transfer due to investigation in progress.
1% of the crew transferred due to unsuitability for overseas duty. (Can’t adapt to the Med – won’t try.)
1% discharged due to unsuitability for the service. (Shouldn’t have been in the Navy at all.)
1% transferred due to ‘Shape Up’. (The rioters.)
1% transferred due to hardship or just couldn’t stand the Med and requested transfers; mostly black sailors.
1% ditto. White sailors; can’t adjust to cultural differences.
1% transferred to hospitals. These were psychos, bed-wetters, a sleepwalker, a firecracker case, chronic alcohol collapses, etc.

The Personnel Manual has lots of transfer distinctions in it. ‘Unsuitability for overseas duty’ which meant ‘just don’t let this guy ashore with the natives, or you’ve got trouble’; ashore in the States they would be OK. ‘Can’t stand the Med’ were the types who were bored stiff without familiar entertainment options. The ‘cultural differences’ types were just unable to enjoy themselves around people who weren’t exactly like them in their attitudes.

SIEGEL: No doubt, the Personnel guys were very busy processing these men.

CULLINS: Interestingly, a classmate and OP 97 shipmate of mine, who got command of CG Chicago on the West Coast and made a deployment to WestPac, told me later that what we in Little Rock experienced was nothing compared to what he experienced. He wasn’t even homeported overseas and he had more black sailor problems than I did. This was due mostly to the urban dragnet, at that time, of warm bodies to increase the number of minorities in the Fleet. Another part of the reason, for both of us, is that about this time period, the Navy went from ‘boot camp’ lasting 13 weeks, down to 9, then 7, then back up to 9. They delivered more sailors quickly, but it sure showed up in sailors with non-military behavior. What I said before showed how and why we were shipping people back. Of course, BuPers nipped at us – they wanted administrative discharges. We didn’t do that for most, we figured they just couldn’t psychologically adjust. 

SIEGEL: That’s pretty graphic evidence that the system created a monster and placed the burden on the fleet.

CULLINS: That pretty well sums it up, and so much for our Christmas break in Gaeta. We were off to sea on the 14th of January 1974. It was to be a better year by far. I tried to shoot the 6 inch guns every couple of days (Waddell- redux) and managed to survive the upset staff, thanks to the Admiral’s support, but I had to limit the number of rounds fired.

SIEGEL: Was the limitation due to staff sensitivities or training ammo shortages?

CULLINS: It wasn’t an ammo shortage. The staff was upset at loud noises interrupting their paperwork. We went to Gibraltar for three days, a nice little town, ‘teddibly’ British of course. The ancient Greeks and the Phoenicians knew it well. The legend is that Hercules split the land bridge between the two continents of Europe and Africa so that a new route could be opened from the Mediterranean to the island of Atlantis. Five miles to the south, stand “The Pillars of Hercules” known to the ancient sailors as the ‘end of the world’ if they tried to sail west. The British have owned Gibraltar since 1704. Barbary apes abound on the Rock itself, and are protected since folklore has it “when the apes leave so will the British”.

SIEGEL: It’s a storied place. I got there once on a short stop for a Med turnover with another submarine but the press of business prevented my going ashore.

CULLINS: That happens in our business. Part of my Gibraltar memories, in a professional (and personal) sense is that the new Sixth Fleet COS reported aboard, and I knew I’d have trouble. One of the first things he said was that he wanted the coxswain of his gig replaced – a very popular black BM1 who was looked up to by the young black sailors in the deck force, who predictably grumbled. We did so, in order to keep a lid on things, so that it didn’t degenerate into another ‘them and us’ issue. Later on, he insisted that we provide compartment cleaners for his staff enlisted berthing spaces as his people were “too valuable for manual labor”.

SIEGEL: That sounds like the start of a wonderful personal relationship.

CULLINS: We didn’t seem to share common views on most issues. but somehow we had to conduct business on a professional plane.  Following the stop in Gib, we went outside the Med to Lisbon, Portugal, a very cosmopolitan city (legend has it that Ulysses founded it). There was a lot to do, and it’s an ideal port city for those ‘salts’ that seldom get more than three blocks from the waterfront. From there, we headed down the coast to Rota, which was ‘hog-heaven’ (shopping at the PX) to the wives who had traveled to Lisbon then boarded us for the trip back into the Med for Tangier, Morocco, followed by Malaga, Spain.) As I remember, it was the visit to Tangier where the pilot didn’t show up, and I had to moor to the pier in a strong wind. Making a standard destroyer type approach, with an angle to the pier, I realized that the big sail area of our after superstructure was swinging the bow in at alarming rate, and that I’d be hitting the pier with the bow at a fair rate of headway. So, I backed down full, and tried again parallel to the pier, and, humiliatingly, used a shot line to the pier, enough to get a line over to the pier and then warp her in.

SIEGEL: When the pilot doesn’t show, the skipper gets some practice in the art of shiphandling.  But then that also happens sometime when the pilot does show.

CULLINS: Maybe that’s why they paid us the big bucks.

SIEGEL: I’ve heard that Tangier is a pretty exotic place.

CULLINS: It is that and great for shopping and night life. Thence, with wives, it was on to Malaga, a city with the mildest winters in Europe. Many civilizations have passed through there – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The Alhambra was something. Then it was time to head for home. Val and a couple of other wives did Madrid en route back to Gaeta. A side issue here is that some American in Madrid asked Val why she was ‘seagulling’ the Med with me and she replied “I want to be his ‘girl in every port’”.

SIEGEL: That was a marvelous swing in the Western Med. I’m sure it left you and your crew (and some lucky wives) with some of the travel lust satisfied and many fond memories.

CULLINS: Right. From 08-14 February we were in Gaeta and I started getting serious about material issues since it was apparent we wouldn’t have much TAV (tender availability) time. We started a 2-4 man lagging team, which did nothing but replace pipe lagging everywhere. Also we started a vent cleaning team to unclog the ancient vents. It obviously hadn’t been done in years, as the team found long-dead birds, 1964 newspapers, 20 yards of grease blocking the flag galley vent system, etc. etc. I was also shocked at the number of valve wheels missing around the ship - at least 600. We begged our type commander to get us some from ships in the boneyard. (By the time I left command, we had replaced about 500).

Mayoral duties heated up about this time, and continued for most of my remaining time in the Rock. I pretty well had to attend all of the Italian functions, i.e. festivals, saint’s days, large Catholic masses, graduations, parades, Italian/American School Day, plus…of course (my call)… Italian-American sports events. (I also tried to make every game of the local professional soccer team).

SIEGEL: That was a very busy week and a productive one in terms of material condition improvements on the ship…and perhaps even more so in cementing good relations with the Italians.

CULLINS: Yes, I had to go back to sea to get some rest. From the 13th to the 19th of February we had Task Force operations in the ‘Blue Force’ in Exercise National Week. It wasn’t terribly exciting. These Med multilateral exercises were usually the ‘canned’ sort of operation – practically a Xerox of the previous years. It did, however, make use of our fabulous communications. Not only did we have the satellite UHF WSC-5 comm gear, but we had the newest and greatest SHF SSC-6 gear. In effect, we had better comms than any other ship in the world. We spent a couple of days in Souda Bay, Crete for the exercise debriefing, and then it was back to Gaeta on the 22nd for five days.

SIEGEL: Did you have a close relationship with the embarked staff during these operations other that the shared communications capability?

CULLINS: Not really, the Admiral never had tactical command. I did attend the daily staff briefing for the Admiral. At about this point, the ‘dark ages’ had set in. The ‘Med mystique’ is that it’s fun and sun and girls galore. The reality is that it isn’t much for six months a year unless you are broadly, culturally oriented. As one of our senior crossdeckers said, “If you are married – great; If you are single and a ‘tiger’ – still pretty good; If you are single and not so tigerish – pretty tough; If you are single and black and not so tigerish – agony”. Gaeta in the winter has a lot of rain, cold, no discos, no dance halls, no girls (few of the Italian families allowed their girls to date sailors), and not much image. A previous ComSixthFlt Admiral had ‘closed’ the ‘Gut’ to create a more “wholesome Navy” and got the Sea Breeze EM Club funded: the result being that our sailors went to the Sea Breeze to just get drunk. The ‘old timers’ from the Springfield say that there was far less trouble in the Gut than there was in the Sea Breeze. 

SIEGEL: The forces of rigid moral judgment usually get it wrong where fleet sailors’ liberty is concerned.

CULLINS: That’s true and the best medicine was getting them back to sea with visits to some good liberty ports.  So, we were off to sea again, headed to Palma, Mallorca on 28 February for a dose of that medicine.  Palma is called “The Pearl of the Med” and is by far the most popular port for any Med sailors I’ve known. It never freezes and is never over 90 degrees. Hordes of European girls flock there in the winter. Then we had a few treasured days at sea around Porto Scudo, Sardinia for naval gunfire support and surface to surface firing. (Incidentally, from my Luce tour, I’d learned that the Sardinia ‘Costa Smeralda’ along the eastern coast has some fabulous small harbor towns to visit, and great liberty with the daughters of the moneyed Italian aristocracy).

8 March – 19 April we were back in Gaeta. It was a time for introspection, and stock-taking. We had a material readiness inspection by our type commander, ComCruDesLant. The results were good, particularly in our preventive maintenance area. (PMS). However, in my mayoral duties there were problems cropping up. A massive amount of petty crimes were being perpetrated on our people (mostly apartment break-ins for electronics equipment) while we were at sea and suspicious rumors were cropping up implicating some of our own sailors (More on this later, about how many of the non-rated ‘crossdeckers’ were involved in this).

SIEGEL: The theft problem extended into my time following your tour. The removal of pieces and parts of cars by thieves was prevalent.  It was sometimes possible to buy these items back on Sunday at the flea market.

CULLINS: I remember that well. On the brighter side, our efforts at developing an ‘O-Club’ in the old Italian O-Club (which was not really used by the Italians because there were few Italian officers in the area and there was nothing there but a few chairs) were bearing fruit. The installation of an ice machine, furniture, bar, shuffleboard, dart board, etc., led to more Italians coming. Some of our officers were there every night, doing happy hours etc. Interestingly, no staff officers ever showed up. We figured they were under wraps.

To help solve the girl problem I talked some Navy bosses in Naples into letting our men get acquainted with their Waves/Wrens. We bused 18 Wrens (British equivalent of our Waves) and 29 Waves in to our EM club – all expenses paid, including dining, drinking and dancing. 250 of our guys showed up. The girls said they’d like to come back. The Wrens were particularly popular as they were much more tolerant of being with our black sailors.

SIEGEL: That was a stroke of genius, Admiral.

CULLINS: I don’t know about genius, but it sure calmed down the disorderly behavior at the Sea Breeze.
About this time, my wife, Valaree, who had thousands of hours as a Navy Relief volunteer in eight different NR auxiliaries, realized that it was a burden for our sailors’ families to go down to Naples for help so she started a Navy Relief volunteer training course in Gaeta, taught by herself. Ultimately, before the end of the year, Gaeta was recognized by the Navy Relief Society as an official branch of the Naples Auxiliary.

SIEGEL: Valaree made an important contribution with her Navy Relief work. The NR provided help that was a huge quality-of-life benefit, especially for the younger families. Shifting gears, can you describe some of the sports activities you promoted?

CULLINS: Sports-wise, our softball team entered the Naples Open League. (This team existed prior to my time). Our boxing team, started by me, went to Rota for a tournament. We bought a couple of power boats to go with the sailboats we had inherited from Springfield, so that we could start water skiing when the weather warmed. We had 24 slo-pitch teams in a ship’s league, and started karate and fencing clubs. Our new volleyball team and both A and B basketball teams played a lot of games against Italian teams. Notably, a player on our newly-founded soccer team was good enough to be invited to play with the local Gaeta professional team.

SIEGEL: That was a pretty complete package. Did you have a full-time Athletic Officer to keep it all on track with schedules, standings, etc.?

CULLINS:  Not full time; he was my Navigator.

We were at sea from 20-24 April for Talos missile firings that were pretty dull because we could only fire against MQM drones at 25 miles or so, at 25K ft! That’s ridiculous for a 100+ mile missile, but the aviators were loath to let us have AQM drones for long range/high altitude shots, and the Italians were goosey about their ability to clear the entire required range for safety.

SIEGEL: How many Talos firings did you have during your time in the Med and were any of them more rigorous tests of the weapons system than what you just described?

CULLINS: Perhaps four to six, but nothing more than the MQM shoots.

Then it was off to Rhodes from the 24th to the 28th of April where unfortunately boating was cancelled due to high winds, on the first day. The Seventh Wonder of the World – the Colossus – is there and an Acropolis.  Once again, many civilizations had crossed there, and there were many invasions. It was the most fortified place in the world in the 1500s. The Knights Hospitalers of St. John occupied the fortress, which held out from a Turkish siege for six months. It’s in pretty good shape still, and makes for a fascinating visit.  Those wives who showed up took advantage of our daylight trip to Mykonos, Greece until 1 May, which was an idyllic place for sun, sea and solitude, with great shopping, eating and nightlife.

Then it was off to sea for two weeks for Exercise Dawn Patrol, in the eastern Med, culminating in an amphibious landing in Turkey, and back to Gaeta on 9 May, our 9-month ‘anniversary’, for two weeks.

SIEGEL: You were getting a fantastic run of port visits, most apparently more interesting than your underway ops. How did in-port VS underway time break out?

CULLINS: I have some notes that I kept on that as it was kind of a time of reflection for me, as to where we were at this point. Here’s what I recorded:

46% of our time was in Gaeta.
30% underway (12% en route somewhere, 18% actual operations).
No ‘cold iron’ since arrival (and would eventually be only one week in two years).
We sure were turning into social workers with lots of pressures from on high.
There were many requests for early liberty from the ‘nest builders’. They say the CNO told them that ‘homeporting’ would give them more ‘family time’.
Flag pressure was using up our Repair Division for staff rebuilding projects.
Topside work in port was very difficult. Admiral and staff were most upset by the sound of chipping hammers and sanding wheels on the superstructure. The sound really carries. So, the required topside maintenance had to wait until after hours.
All of our radiomen were TAD to the flag. They didn’t do their PMS (probably workload-driven), but it reflected in the ship’s PMS completion rate (since the RMs were on the ship’s roster). Nine RMs were caught in a drug ring. Some of the senior RMs were saying “the hell with it”. Lots of workload around the clock was the rule. So the reenlistment rate of RMs was very low. They felt like they were “neither fish nor fowl”.
Finally the new gym had opened. It was time to really hit the athletic program.
The EM club now had a nightly band.

SIEGEL: That’s a fine recap, Admiral. It’s good you took the time to capture your thoughts in writing.

CULLINS: Yes, that’s a habit I developed early in my career and is an obvious boost to recalling not only dates and places, but how I viewed what was happening.

SIEGEL: A question about the strain on the RMs—were you attempting to get any help from BuPers to beef up Comm Department manning?

CULLINS: No, my whining was just responded to by saying we were up to our manning level on paper. (So ‘better leadership’ would solve the problem – right?)

On 23 May, we sailed for the Adriatic and a visit to Split, Yugoslavia. Split was founded by a Roman emperor in 400 AD. Four days later, we embarked the traveling wives to Corfu, Greece. Mythology has it that Ulysses was shipwrecked here. Corfu may have the best beaches in the non-North African Mediterranean. On the 30th we participated in International Week II, with a ‘wash-up’ in Souda Bay, Crete.  There we had a sporty boxing ‘smoker’ aboard and an ocean ‘swim call’, then ops again until the critique in Augusta Bay, Sicily. Incidentally, we achieved C1 across the board here, except for a full-power trial, which was not allowed in the Sixth Fleet due to the fuel crisis. The Admiral was good in this regard by allowing me to schedule ‘irritating’ operations like ’towing’ and other such in order to complete the required yearly exercises to reach C1. By the way, unfortunately the staff had some sort of problem with Venice. We never went there, to our wives’ chagrin.

SIEGEL: C1 was a notable accomplishment, under the circumstances of a constrained op schedule. Can you expand on the ship’s overall material condition at this point?

CULLINS: Yes, we got back to Gaeta for two weeks, 9-26 June. We had an Administrative Inspection and an Operational Readiness Inspection by the Naples tender Cascade. Grades were 96 for both PMS and the Battle Problem.  Several months before that, a Sixth Fleet Material Inspection had found our Operations Dept. PMS to be ‘Outstanding’ and the Engineering Dept. PMS to be ‘Excellent’. Of particular note was a comment by the senior Cascade Engineer who said he had been in the Rock 10 years ago and that the plant was in better shape now than it was then. We also started to focus on our drivers: in nine months we had 46 accidents involving $100 or more. We did ease up a bit on ship’s work because it was good beach weather in Gaeta. Of note was that we did start practice for our tackle football team, (the only shipboard pigskin team that I knew of other than the Naples tender, and they hardly ever got underway), with $2000 from the W&R fund for equipment. We were looking forward to joining the joint service Naples football league.   

SIEGEL: Those inspection results were impressive, but the whole world wants to know how your football team did.

CULLINS: Remind me to touch on that a bit later when the results were in.

On 27 June, we headed to Villefranche, France – the ‘ancestral home’ of the Sixth Fleet flagship until ’66 when DeGaulle ‘kicked us out’. (He didn’t really; it was our doing after he forced the move of NATO headquarters to Brussels. He didn’t force the U.S. military out of France). Villa has a beautiful bay – the only problem is that the flagship had to anchor out. Many wives joined us there and then came with us to Toulon, France, the oldest French naval base where 64 ships were sunk in the harbor in 1942. The pilot scared the hell out of me in a crowded harbor. He thought all that shaft horsepower was his to play with, so I had to take the conn away from him. We had a bit of a protocol problem there because the Admiral had flown in with his wife on TAD/TDY orders, and the French refused to return our salute because the admiral wasn’t on board.

SIEGEL: The French always managed to contribute to our colorful memories, one way or the other. Did they demonstrate how to properly celebrate the 4th of July, as they did for us in Cannes in ‘75 and ’76?

CULLINS: I don’t really remember, but I do remember that our Marine Captain was livid when his Marines were turned out as ‘lighted lamposts’ again, (it had happened once before (or after) in Gaeta at a reception the Admiral gave) during the ceremony, or perhaps it was the dinner.

On 5 July, we were back in Gaeta, ostensibly for two weeks, but on the 20th we got urgent word to get underway for Cyprus, as Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to a coup in Greece aimed, in part, at uniting Cyprus with Greece. We alarmed the citizens of Gaeta by blasting mightily with our ship’s whistle hoping to recall as many of our men as possible before we got underway. We were to supervise the possible evacuation of US citizens from Cyprus. On the 28th, things were in hand, so we were free to sail for Alexandria, Egypt.

SIEGEL: Apparently you made short work of the evacuation exercise in Cyprus.

CULLINS: We did, indeed. It was a good exercise in how to get the crew back aboard.

We arrived in Alexandria on 29 July in the city that was the ancient capital of Egypt millennia ago. The famous Library of Alexandria, from antiquity, was there and Alex is the purported burial place of Antony and Cleopatra. It was part of the Byzantine Empire until the Arabs took over in the 7th century. Beyond Cairo is King Tut’s tomb and the pyramids. Although the Admiral had not OK’d wives because of the secrecy surrounding the visit, some of us had gotten to our wives to get visas and fly in. (Norfolk International Fleet Review redux!) So, Valaree was there and while I was tied up with ship’s business and receptions/calls, she managed to do the whole Cairo bit. (Tut, pyramids, camel ride/photo etc) The Admiral had specifically warned us to be above reproach ashore, since we were the first US warship to visit in more than a decade. Everything went fine until the last night when a couple of our sailors got drunk and boarded a Soviet merchant ship and raised a ruckus. Fortunately the Russian captain was wise to the ways of sailors, and merely had them escorted to the Rock. (That was a close call!).

SIEGEL: You had all the interesting variety and excitement of a classic Med port visit from great sight-seeing to a near-miss on an international incident.

CULLINS: It was a rich experience followed by a return to Gaeta on 5 August for the long-awaited TAV (tender availability) with the Yosemite (they had relieved the Cascade) coming up to Gaeta from Naples. It was cut short by another Cyprus underway (I forget why) until we came back on the 23rd to work on material issues and to get ready for the change of command for Commander Sixth Fleet on the 5 September. We had Secretary of the Navy John Middendorf on board as well as CincUSNavEur, Admiral Hal Shear, who had a ‘start’ in an engine room tour where he asked a young fireman how he liked Gaeta. “It sucks, Sir”, was the reply, (as his Chief cringed in the background). Admiral Shear asked, “What, what? What’d he say?”. “He doesn’t like Gaeta, Admiral”, replied his quick-witted aide. That was a funny little cut on Navy life.

SIEGEL: Out of the mouths of babes—and sailors—come some real gems.  That’s a story with long legs; it’s still being told today by old hands.

CULLINS: That was a case of an old Admiral having a brush with reality.

Since it was the one year mark for us, I took a look at what had happened to our ‘Little Rock 10’. All had gotten into trouble in Naples and had additional SPCM charges pending. The latest episode had all of them making a gang attack upon six Marines. Two were sent to Rota for custodial safe-keeping. COMA was still pondering whether or not I was a convening authority or an accuser.

SIEGEL: The wheels of justice, even in the military, grind ever so slowly.  Whoever put these misfits in the Navy was guilty of aiding and abetting.

CULLINS: That’s so true but the recruiters were under great pressure to fill thinning ranks and add minorities.
About this time we did get a message saying that we were priority 4 for MUSE (I don’t remember how that acronym deciphered, but it was a power station mounted on a barge that would allow a cold-iron capability for a ship moored to a pier). We ranked behind Elefsis, Greece (where we had a homeported DesRon), La Maddalena, Sardinia (submarine base) and Naples. It said that the earliest we could expect MUSE was CY ’78!  (It had been originally requested in October of 1972).

SIEGEL: You mentioned you were preparing for the COMSIXTH FLT change of command to be held on 5 September. Can you say a bit more about that?

CULLINS: The change of command took place on a CVA anchored in Gaeta. VADM Frederick ‘Fox’ Turner took over – a significantly different style from VADM Murphy, (as one would expect from a fighter pilot), however banning smoking at protocol dinner parties was tough on Europeans, who like to smoke between courses (and especially tough on them since they can’t drink any wine with dinner on the ship either). His wife Betty was a significant supporter of ship’s officers/wives, with a kindred feeling in belonging to the flagship as well as the Admiral’s staff,

SIEGEL: What changes did you see in fleet operations and flagship scheduling under the new Admiral?

CULLINS: With Admiral Turner, the schedulers got busy to change things around for the 1st quarter of 1975. (4th quarter 1974 had pretty well been locked in before the change of command in Sept ’74). I put my two cents in, hoping that they would pay some attention to the ship’s needs. They had pretty well chopped away at our U/W time until we got only three real weeks of at-sea time in Jul-Sept.

SIEGEL: Was there a formal method for you to make input to the scheduling process or was it word of mouth with the fleet scheduler?

CULLINS: Well, it was actually both and the latter, through personal contact, was most effective.  Relying on notes from the time, the substance of my scheduling philosophy for the ship, less political and fuel realities, was as follows:

1 month in Gaeta is much too much.
1 month away from Gaeta is too much.
3 weeks in, 3 weeks out is much better.
3 to 5 days in Gaeta is useless. Minimum should be 7 days.
3 liberty ports in a row is bad, particularly when spread across one payday (as Palermo, Tunis and Cagliari were).
5 days in a liberty port is always bad.
4 days is preferable for great ports (Barcelona, Palma, Villefranche, Lisbon etc),
3 days for lesser liberty ports (Palermo, Cagliari, Malaga, Tangiers etc).
2 or 3 day transits between ports are great to get the crew back in shape and get caught up on work.

Out of Gaeta, a little shorter series of port visits, longer transits and more task force time (with a clear understanding that we would be under the tactical command of the OTC) is highly desired. Since 1 July we were lopsided in favor of in-port time – somewhere.

SIEGEL: That’s pretty well-developed, experience-driven philosophy and clearly in the best interest of your ship, your people and the dependent community.  How sympathetic were the Admiral and his staff in considering your desires?

CULLINS: Not very. I think the fuel shortage restrictions imposed from above were mostly responsible. Really, at sea we just kind of floated around, not really under the command of the OTC. It was similar to what I had observed with Com2ndFlt’s flagship, Newport News, in Atlantic Fleet exercises and Com7thFlt’s Oklahoma City in WestPac. The ‘hotel’ business is seen all-too-often in fleet flagships.

There were several disappointing omissions in their selection of places for port visits.  I have some notes on that, too:

Crew loves Gibraltar for a little bit of English and Rota for USN base features.
Wives like Rota, to shop. Ex-scheduler for C6F cannot understand leaving out Gib. Also, Gib and Rota are great for crew sports.
Adriatic. Same scheduler cannot understand recent lack of visits to Trieste. Crew wants Venice. Wives want Dubrovnik. Politically I would think Taranto would be valuable, as I also do La Spezia.
Same scheduler, plus myself, cannot understand reluctance to visit Ajaccio, Corsica, as part of an overall French campaign.

SIEGEL: We got into Dubrovnik in both the summers of ’75 and ’76 and into Rota, only as an operational necessity. None of the other places you mention got scheduled.

CULLINS: So it goes, but greater minds, charged with strategic thinking, were calling the shots. The ship was merely the means of transporting that collective brain trust to where it had to go, or in some cases wanted to go. The word floating around the staff was that VADM Turner wanted a lot of French ports since he spoke French well, but that would have been mostly after my time.

As part of my quarterly “HowGoZit” summary, I looked at our advancement stats and was a bit disturbed. We had people who didn’t want to advance in grade, so I figured ‘liberty’ limits might work. Those who had enough time in grade to have made E-3 had to go to 3-section liberty. Those without enough time in grade but who passed the E-3 exam went to 4-section liberty. (The crew was on 1-in-4, except for the engineers).

SIEGEL: How did the ‘carrot and stick’ approach work in compelling better advancement rates?

CULLINS:  Oddly enough I don’t remember.
We also looked at drug statistics. A lot better than early on, but in the last year we caught and prosecuted 35 sailors for ‘hash’ and 8 for pill-popping, about 5% of the crew.

Most of the leading people felt that about half the crew was ‘smoking’, but in the privacy of their apartments.

SIEGEL: The private use on liberty would have been confirmed a few years later when the Navy introduced the regular use of urinalysis screening.

CULLINS: I think that would have kept me at Captain’s Mast at least three days a week and placed a huge morale problem in my hands.

A look at the minority situation showed 9% of the crew was black (4% of the PO’s were black).  We had recently gotten 25 or so Filipino recruits on board – all solid citizens.  The interesting point here is that 1/4th of them were college graduates.

SIEGEL: The Filipino sailors made an enormous contribution during my time as XO. They were great shipmates and policed themselves with peer leadership taking responsibility for the younger ones. The best part was their positive attitude.

CULLINS: I’d say we rated a draft of good recruits.

So, with a new Admiral, a new schedule and a somewhat improved crew make-up, off we went on 23 September.

SIEGEL: I think that will do it for this session, Admiral.  I look forward to picking up the beat then as the Rock sails on to new adventures.

CULLINS: Good deal; I’ll talk to you then.

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The portion of RADM Cullins' Oral History pertaining to his time on board the USS Little Rock CLG 4 is presented in several segments, chronologically arranged. You have just finished reading Segment 9. Click below to go to any other segment or to go to the Introduction.

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