XO - D.W. Knutson

Hi Jack,   

I asked the X.O. one day why the Captain hardly ever spoke with or became friendly with the crew.  He explained it very clearly to me.  Not that he had to but he took the time.  He said that the Captain had him (the X.O.) to handle the day to day interface with the crew so he (the Captain) could concentrate on running the ship.  I thought it was a good answer.   An X.O. memory:   The first time I had occasion to speak with the X.O. it was at precom in Newport R.I., September of 1962.  Without malice, for I did not know, I pronounced his name (phonetically) as "Newt-son".  He immediately corrected me stating "My name is Donald Wayne Knutson, that is 'Ka-newt-son' with a K".  I believe my response started me on my fabled mess cooking career on the Semmes.  I replied "Like 'Ka-newt' Rockney Sir?   

Dean Slone 62-64

Great memories, Dean.

I always thought being an XO would be an incredibly difficult job. On the one hand the crew sees him as the disciplinarian...the guy that has to get all the work done and the lightning rod for all the gripes. On the other hand the captain lets the XO know whenever anything isn't going right (and hopefully when it is going right). All in all the XO is right in the middle. Not a job I ever envied.


Dean, those are good observations, especially about Don Knutsen. He had a lot to do with how well the ship turned out. Too bad we lost him so soon.

Regarding my presumed "aloofness" from the crew, let me say a few words about that.

No matter what sort of trouble a young sailor (or an old Chief) may feel he is in, there is always a chance that the next level up will see things his way. If this is to work out, the next level has to have no more than a correct formal relationship with the level below. For example, if I had been on a buddy basis with Don Knutsen, which was apparent to everyone, your relationship with the XO would have been the governing relationship in the ship. What was the point in going any higher? I kept my distance from Don in public so there would always be hope that you might get a better hearing from me than from the XO.

Sometimes we played it that way. If we needed to strengthen the XO's position with some of you troops, we let him raise holy hell with you, threaten you with castration, or worse, convince you that you did not want to get him riled up again, and then let him bring you up to me, where you expected to have the ax dropped. I used to ask the XO if he thought you had learned any lesson on which I could base some leniency. He always, by design, hesitated, and then said, well, maybe. So you were alive again. It worked pretty well.

The one time I recall taking a a different tack, was when I realized the Chiefs were not doing their part in raising hell when things came to their level. Instead they were bucking problems up to me. So I invited myself to their mess for coffee and frank talk. I did all the talking. They were to make a better effort to straighten things out by leadership and guidance at their level before they ran one of you up to me. If I saw any signs that they were not doing this in the future, it would be good bye CPO. If I saw that they had made a firm try to handle some disciplinary or performance problem, and they told me I had to take it from there, they could count on me to back them up. We came to a good understanding. One or two chiefs got the sack, the rest could not have been better. That became the best chiefs quarters I was ever privileged to sail with.

Everybody benefited.

Thanks for your comments. It's great to look back, isn't it?

Capt. A.

My lasting memory of the XO was my first meeting with him.  I had been in Avondale with the ship so had never met the XO. 
When the balance crew joined the ship in Charleston, I saw the XO from a distance, so knew who he was.  As I was leaving on liberty in the afternoon.  The XO drove up to the pier and parked and we met on the pier. 

Wanting to make a good impression, I snapped my best salute and sounded off with my best "Good afternoon, XO!".  He returned my salute and gave a hearty "Howdy!!"  I checked his car when I passed it, sure that I would see Texas license plates only to see Minnesota plates.  

I'll second the Captain's assessment of the CO/XO relationship.  The best ships that I served on (topped by the SEMMES) always had a CO and an XO that provided a contrast, at least in the crew's eyes.  They could do the "good cop, bad cop" routine and interchange roles on occasion.  The XO didn't always have to be the heavy.  He could present the crew's case to the Captain on occasion and seem to prevail.  

Keith Cottrell

Thanks, Keith. That is a very perceptive observation, nicely expressed. When this basic arrangement is upset, as when both officers want to become dominant characters in the same ship, the organization begins to break down -- from the top first. I've seen it happen.

Don Knutsen was a hard act to top, so I never tried, or felt inclined. I had enough to do keeping the bow headed fair and finding new ways to expand your training.

Good to hear from you!

Capt. A.

The thing that amazed me then, as a PO2 with 6 years service, and even more now as a retired SCPO with 23 years active service and more than that working with the navy, is that Cdr Knutsen, Lt. Reisinger (Weapons), Lt. Donnell (Engineering), and Lt. Mayfield (Fire Control) had all had command previously.  The XO had captained a fleet tug and the other three had commanded minesweepers.  When I first found this out, I expected to be witness to a major clash of egos.  There may have been in the Wardroom, but I never saw it on the deckplates.  I did witness a few exchanges between the XO and Lt. Mayfield (after the latter became the Weapons Officer) in combat during GQ exercises, but they didn't last long and usually consisted of Lt. Mayfield expressing his views of a particular training situation and then accepting the decision of the XO or CO.  I had the impression that all four realized that there could be only one CO on the ship.  I also had the impression that the Captain utilized the experience of all four officers (plus that of the rest of the officers and crew) to the definite advantage of the ship as a whole.   Keith Cottrell

Excellent assessment Keith,  the X.O. played his role very well.     In every mans life there are a few individuals that stand out in memory as having had a profound influence.  For me, the X.O. was one of those men.  I don't know how or why it happened but Mr. Knutson and I developed a mentoring type of relationship.  In one conversation out on deck he mentioned that he "didn't like being the hammer all the time".  He would much rather have been on friendlier terms with the crew.  

Dean 62-64

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