HANNIBAL — Hannibal native Admiral Robert E. Coontz will be honored with a special ceremony from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in the recreation center and former armory that bears his name.
Coontz was born June 11, 1864, in Hannibal, and he was a childhood friend of Mark Twain. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and entered active duty on numerous ships. His service spanned World War 1 and several years afterward, and he received the Distinguished Service Medal from the American Legion in 1923. American Legion Post 55 (Emmette J. Shields) will lead a special tribute with a color guard presentation and historical facts about the highest-ranking military official from America's Hometown at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, 301 Warren Barrett Drive.
After serving as governor of Guam from 1912 to 1914, Coontz returned to the Navy to serve as commander of the Battleship Georgia and commandant of the Navy Yard Puget Sound through the end of World War I. In late 1919, he was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, where he served until 1923 as chief of naval operations. Afterward, Coontz was commandant of the Fifth Naval District.
The Admiral Coontz Armory was built from 1938-1939 as a Works Progress Administration project, along with the adjacent Clemens Field. The long-serving armory became a recreation center under the direction of the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department, after the present-day armory was constructed in Huckleberry Park in 1977.
Coontz's years of service were recognized with two naval ships bearing his name. He also was an author, penning his autobiography “From the Mississippi to the Sea” in 1930. The book details his life from childhood through his U.S. Navy career — from his early tenure serving as Midshipman at the Naval Academy to his roles as Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet.
Ken Marks, who owns and operates the Hannibal History Museum, said Coontz's steady rise in rank coincided with a period of major development within the Navy.
“As he was ascending, so was the U.S. Navy into what some people say was the greatest navy in the world by the time he had taken over,” Marks said.
Coontz retired in 1928 but stayed busy with a variety of endeavors.
“He wrote his own memoirs around 1930,” Marks said, referring to the book, “From the Mississippi to the Sea,” which chronicles Coontz's life from his days growing up in Hannibal through his Navy career.
He also wrote a second book, “True Anecdotes of an Admiral,” which came out in 1934.
In 1932, Coontz represented the state of Alaska at the Democratic National Convention. Also that year he became commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Coontz suffered a series of heart attacks beginning in 1934 and died Jan. 26, 1935, at the Puget Sound Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Wash.
His body was brought back to Hannibal by train and was escorted by an entourage of military organizations to the Park Methodist Church to lie in state.
The Marion County Standard newspaper of Palmyra reported that 6,000 people took part in the visitation. Missouri Gov. Guy Park attended the funeral and was an honorary pallbearer.
American Legion Post 55 Commander Jerry Weide said he looks forward to the opportunity to remember a fellow veteran who kept close ties to Hannibal.
“One thing I would say about Admiral Coontz was that he was an exemplary military man who never forgot his hometown,” Weide said.
The event is part of Hannibal's Bicentennial Celebration recognizing notable Hannibalians. More information is available by calling 573-221-0154.