RALEIGH, N.C. (Kyodo) Scott Waddle, former skipper of the U.S. submarine that accidently sank the fisheries school ship Ehime Maru, stood in front of junior high school students recently to speak about the collision that killed nine on Feb. 9, 2001.
After he was finished, the students pitched him tough yet innocent questions.
“How does it feel to kill somebody?”
“Do the parents hate you?”
“Did you think about killing yourself?”
Even though 10 years have passed since the collision, the 51-year-old retired commander of the USS Greeneville is constantly reminded of what he saw on the day that changed his life.
Waddle was in command the 6,080-ton nuclear-powered sub when it rammed into the 499-ton training ship from Uwajima Fisheries High School as the sub was performing a rapid-surfacing drill.
“I watched it disappear from view and there was nothing I could do to change it. It was the most horrific experience in my life, watching the ship disappear. I prayed, ‘God help them, get them off the ship,’ ” he reflected during a recent interview in North Carolina, where he now lives.
“We tried to help those that were in the water, but it was too difficult to bring them on the ship,” he said.
No one was injured on the submarine, but of the 35 people on the Ehime Maru, nine — four students, two teachers and three crew members — died. The body of one of the teens was never found.
A U.S. Navy court of inquiry examined the circumstances of the accident. At an admiral’s mast, a navy administrative sentencing, Waddle was found guilty of dereliction of duty and improper hazarding of a vessel. He was acquitted of negligent homicide. He was then stripped of his position, docked several months pay and honorably discharged with his rank of commander retained.
From the former captain’s perspective, the punishment was fair.
“If I was sitting on the other side of the desk, the outcome would have been exactly what I would have provided. I knew as the captain of the submarine, no one else should have been blamed,” he said.
Some criticized the fact that Waddle was found not guilty of homicide and had received administrative, rather than judicial, punishment. He received death threats and hate mail.
The abrupt end to his 20-year career left him unemployed and forced his family to move in with relatives for 10 months before he took a position as a project manager at an energy firm.
After he moved to North Carolina for his new job, Waddle began to be asked to speak at local clubs. These invitations were part of what prompted him to start his own business as a consultant, executive coach and public speaker in July 2004.
He has spoken to groups as small as three and to crowds as large as 25,000. He tells the churchgoers, bankers, teachers, nurses, firefighters, prison inmates, U.S. military members, policymakers, students and other groups he speaks to the same thing: No matter what happens, tell the truth. Be accountable. Admit your mistakes.
Full disclosure was just about the only thing he could do for the victims’ families.
“To have the truth known and understood so that the families would know that there was no deception, that there was no coverup. Maybe it would not ease the pain but it would clearly help them at least understand the cause,” he said.
The only other thing he could do for them was to offer — and continue offering — his deepest apologies.
Waddle visited Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, in December 2002 to offer his condolences. He laid a wreath of flowers at the victims’ high school.
He wanted to apologize in person to family members of each of the victims. But few were receptive to the idea.
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