Coontz was laid at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in March 1957, just 39 years after Admiral Coontz left his post as the shipyard's commander. The first guided-missile frigate to be built on the West Coast, and the second ship to bear the name of the Navy’s second chief of naval operations, Coontz was christened by Mrs. Robert J. Coontz, wife of the admiral’s grandson, on December 6, 1958.
Commanded by Commander H.H. Reis, Coontz was commissioned on July 15, 1960 and completed post-shakedown training in April 1961. Because Coontz was commissioned 6 months ahead of Farragut, the lead ship of the class, some references refer to the class as Coontz-class frigates/destroyers. Coontz then reported for duty as a unit of the Cruiser-Destroyer Force U.S. Pacific Fleet and joined the First Fleet as flagship of Destroyer Division 152, home ported in San Diego, California. Commander, Destroyer Squadron 15 flew his flag on Coontz from May 4 to July 12, 1961.
Coontz returned to the United States on March 23, 1962 to rejoin the U.S. First Fleet and became the flagship of the Commander, Destroyer Squadron 17 in April 1962. On the second anniversary of her awards for excellence in Operations, Engineering and Gunnery, Coontz flew the flag of the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla 11 from August 1 to November 11, 1962, when she again became the flagship for Commander, Destroyer Squadron 17.
Commander James R. Collier relieved Captain Reis in July 1962. The Coontz sailed with the Seventh Fleet in Asiatic waters, visiting Yokosuka, Kobe, Kure and Beppu in Japan and Hong Kong, B.C.C in China. During this time the Coontz was also designated a stand-by recovery ship for NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 8 space mission. During the space flight on October 3, 1962, Wally Schirra orbited the Earth at an altitude of 100 miles (160 km). Although Coontz was listed as a stand-by ship for recovery operations, it was not activated. The Coontz returned to the U.S. in May 1963. In June 1963, the Coontz demonstrated the kill capability of the Terrier surface-to-air missile in a sea power demonstration for President John F. Kennedy.
Upon rejoining the Pacific Fleet in April 1964, Coontz successfully completed comprehensive weapons systems qualification trials and refresher training. Prior to departure for the Western Pacific on August 5 1964, Coontz was awarded the Missile, Gunnery and engineering “E” award for combat excellence in these areas. On August 3 1964, Coontz again became the flagship for Commander, Destroyer Squadron 17.
Operations in the First Fleet included participation in the 1965 summer midshipmen training cruise. Coontz visited Bellingham, Washington; San Francisco, California; and Hilo and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii during this cruise. The “E”, “C” and “A” awards were received during this period for excellence in engineering, communications and anti-submarine warfare. On August 14 1965, Commander W. Cummings relieved Commander Kenyon as commanding officer.
After departing Long Beach Naval Shipyard in March 1967, Coontz returned to San Diego and commenced a training and upkeep period.
During the leave and upkeep period a Test and Evaluation Monitoring System (TEAMS) was installed for evaluation during operations with the First Fleet. This was the first automatic test system to be installed in the surface fleet. The operations included participation in the summer midshipmen cruise. Ports visited during this cruise were San Francisco, Seattle, and Pearl Harbor. Coontz then took part in First Fleet operations; including exercise Beat Cadence until Deploying on November 15 1968.
Coontz returned to the Gulf of Tonkin for another Search and Rescue mission before going north for upkeep in Yokosuka, Japan. After an EC-121 aircraft was shot down by North Korean jets, Coontz was rushed into the Sea of Japan. From that assignment, Coontz returned to San Diego via Subic Bay on May 18.
In January of 1971, shortly after her last Seventh Fleet tour, Coontz departed San Diego via the Panama Canal for Atlantic waters and a major overhaul and modernization at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. In conjunction with this work, Coontz DLG-9 was decommissioned on 23 February 1971. After extensive Anti Air Warfare modification, Coontz was recommissioned on 18 March 1972 and transferred to her new home port of Newport, Rhode Island. Commander T.R.M.Emery is assigned to the Coontz as its Commanding Officer on March 8 1972.
After a six month test period in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other operations in the Caribbean, Coontz sailed on a "show the flag" cruise to South America and Africa. Subsequently she entered Boston Naval Shipyard for a three month Post Shakedown Availability. Following extensive training and preparation, Coontz departed on 6 July 1973 for her first deployment with the US Sixth Fleet, operating in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean Sea. Commander Emery was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander F.N. Howe on December 20 1973.
As part of a major re-designation of several classes of ships, Coontz was designated guided-missile destroyer 40 (DDG 40) on 1 July 1975. The ship’s next deployment was on January 17, 1976 as part of the Standing Naval Forces Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT). The force operated in Caribbean, U.S. and Canadian waters with ships from 4 NATO navies prior to a transit to Northern Europe where Coontz visited 8 countries and participated in numerous NATO exercises. Commander Howe was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander Silas O. Nunn III on March 6 1976. Nunn was later relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander W. P. Martin on April 8 1978.
After a one year regular overhaul in Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Coontz departed on 21 July 1978 for comprehensive gunnery, missile and Harpoon system qualifications and refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After returning home, Coontz participated in six months of local operations including GULFEX 78 in November 1978. In 1979 she served again with STANAVFORLANT, as flag ship, hosting more than 35,000 visitors in 8 NATO countries and participating in various exercises with over 30 NATO ships. STANAVFORLANT operations included areas above the Arctic Circle, in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. Commander Martin was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander C.P. Willoz on September 28 1979.
On July 14, 1981, Coontz accidentally fired a live Harpoon missile about 60 nautical miles off St. Croix. The island was in range of the missile and it was fired toward the island, but a search by Coontz and aircraft from found no debris. The US Navy concluded that the Harpoon harmlessly impacted the sea since no trace of it was ever found. A Danish frigate had a similar incident in September 1982 with no casulaties, but significant property damage.
In the fall of 1981, Coontz deployed again. This cruise included port visits in Western Africa as part of the West African Training Cruise, operations in the Mediterranean Sea and a transit into the Black Sea followed by a port visit to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. Commander Willoz was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander J.P. Reason on September 6 1981.
Coontz participated in operations around the Eastern coast of Central America in mid 1982 making the first visit to Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles by a U.S. Navy ship in more than 13 years. In July of that year Coontz entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for a one year regular overhaul, undergoing various configuration changes and equipment additions. During this yard period, Commander Reason was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander L.P. Brooks, Jr. on December 17 1982. Coontz completed overhaul on time in July of 1983.
From August to October 1985, Coontz under went her first Phased Maintenance Availability, a new concept involving short periods of intense industrial work designed to maximize operational availability rather than placing ships in prolonged overhauls.
In November 1985 Coontz participated in Operation Bold Eagle, a joint exercise conducted with the US Army and US Air Force in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Coontz was a vital link in maintaining air defense, coordinating with airborne Air Force AWACS aircraft and Army ground units.
Coontz’s next joint exercise was Ocean Venture '86. Coontz, along with Navy ships and Coast Guard cutters conducted quarantine operations exercises in the Caribbean operating areas. During this time Coontz requalified her Naval Gunfire Support Team at the Vieques Island Range near Puerto Rico.
In November 1986 Coontz was awarded her first and only Battle Efficiency award. In addition she earned all eight line department awards in the areas of Navigation/Deck Seamanship, Main Propulsion, Damage Control, Anti-Air Warfare, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare, Electronic Warfare, and Communications.
In late 1986 and early 1987, Coontz under went a work up period in preparation for deployment to the Persian Gulf on 5 February 1987. During her deployment, she served under the Commander, Middle East Forces. Coontz was tasked with ensuring the safe passage of all U.S. vessels as well as maintaining U.S. presence in the Gulf during the escalation of the Iran–Iraq War. Commander Gnerlich was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander William W. Cobb, Jr. on April 11 1987. During deployment in the Persian Gulf, Coontz provided firefighting teams which aided in the rescue of the USS Stark and her crew after she was struck by Iraqi Exocet missiles. Coontz returned to her home port of Norfolk, Virginia on 5 August 1987. Following a three month maintenance availability (SRA) she operated as part of the U.S. Second Fleet until the end of her career.
In 2006, the USS Coontz Association, comprised of former officers and crew of the USS Coontz, obtained the transom of ship from a private collector who had saved it from the scrap heap. The transom, which bears the name of the ship, was then donated to the city of Hannibal, MO, birthplace of the ship's namesake, Admiral Robert. E. Coontz. On March 31, 2007, several former crew members of the USS Coontz, Navy deputy chief of information Admiral Nathan Jones and Hannibal city officials dedicated the transom at Nipper Park. The dedication occurred 50 years to the month after the laying of the keel of the ship.
In May 2007, the USS Coontz Association launched an online petition drive in an effort to convince the Secretary of the Navy to name another U.S. Navy ship for Admiral Coontz. The last Arleigh Burke class destroyer name was selected in May 2008, .