Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal and Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King barely spoke to one another in the latter part of World War II. Both were aggressive, smart leaders, and both thought that they alone were in charge of the Navy.
Admiral James Watkins, the Reagan-era CNO who passed away on 26 July at the age of 85, was King’s equal in aggressive leadership and superior in intellect and political savvy. And as with King, Watkins’ Secretary (yours truly) was also convinced that the SecNav ran the Navy. But the relationship between the two of us was very different from King’s and Forrestal’s. To begin with, I had been in the job of SecNav for 18 months and was the major voice in choosing Watkins to succeed the equally strong and intelligent Tom Hayward. Jim Watkins and I both made a constant effort to communicate daily, often walking into each other’s offices unannounced.