WASHINGTON – The former captain of the U.S. Navy submarine that collided with a Japanese fisheries training boat off Hawaii two years ago, killing nine Japanese, has said the book he recently published about the accident is intended to describe what he endured.
Scott Waddle, former captain of the 6,080-ton nuclear-powered attack sub USS Greeneville, was stripped of his command following the Feb. 9, 2001, collision that sank the 499-ton Ehime Maru during a rapid-surfacing maneuver being carried out as a demonstration for civilian guests.
Last week, Waddle, 43, released a book about the collision and its aftermath, “The Right Thing,” from Integrity Publishing Inc., a Tennessee publisher of Christian books.
“The point in writing the book is to give the readers the insight to see and hear what I saw and what I had to endure, in hopes that they can learn from it,” Waddle said. “You can learn from other people’s mistakes. That’s the true objective.”
Waddle told a Navy Court of Inquiry in March 2001 that he accepted full responsibility for the accident.
While at periscope depth before the maneuver, both Waddle and the officer of the deck, Michael Coen, failed to visually detect the Ehime Maru, which was then less than 3.65 km away and closing. The Greeneville submerged and performed the ill-fated emergency surfacing.
“The most horrific event was not the collision, was not seeing the vessel that I struck,” Waddle said. “It was while my submarine was floundering on the surface, after the survivors had been rescued, that I learned that nine people were missing. That was the most horrible moment of all, not the collision.”
Four teenage Uwajima Fisheries High School students, two teachers and three crew members aboard the Ehime Maru were killed. Nine students from the school and 17 crew members were rescued.
“I could live with the fact that a vessel sank,” he said. “I could live with the fact that maybe people were injured.
“I was having great difficulty accepting the fact that I was part of something that caused nine people to lose their lives. That was the horrible reality of it all.”
Waddle was transferred from the Greenville the day after the accident and reassigned to a desk job.
In April 2001, he was reprimanded by the commander of the Pacific Fleet but was given an honorable discharge that September. He retained his rank of commander.
Waddle was born in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, where a U.S. military base is located, and spent his early years there. In August, he was hired by a U.S. power system company.
He said the crash consumed him.
“It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up; it was the last thing I thought about when I went to bed,” he said. “But I realize I have a life that I have to live and I have to move on and move forward. But I want your readers to also know that this is an event that I will not forget, that I do live with.”
Waddle said proceeds from the book will go toward funding a Japanese club at a high school in Hawaii where students volunteer on a monthly basis to clean and maintain a memorial to the victims.
In December, Waddle visited Uwajima Fisheries High School for the first time to offer his apologies.
None of the survivors or next of kin of the deceased were present, apparently because the school had rejected his offer to visit the memorial.
No school officials came to greet him.
“That was very difficult, to know that I was going out of the United States, my country where I feel comfortable, into a country where I know that I might not necessarily be welcomed,” Waddle said. “Certainly this was not a happy visit. But it was one that I had hoped would help the families.”
Later that day, Waddle met with four of the student survivors and their families at a hotel in the city and tearfully apologized to them.
“I believe the meeting with the students that survived was meaningful,” he said.
Waddle said he gave up the idea of attending a Feb. 9 ceremony in Honolulu to commemorate the second anniversary of the tragedy. A local association organizing the event recommended he stay away out of consideration for the relatives of the victims.
“I had fully intended to go there to lay a wreath in the manner I had done at the Uwajima Fisheries High School. But I was asked by family members that are going to attend the ceremony not to,” he said.
“I know that . . . I can always ask for forgiveness, but I can never expect to receive it.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5