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Tuesday, March 15, 2005
4 YEARS AFTER
THE EHIME MARU ACCIDENT
Sub tragedy turns
In an exclusive interview, Waddle, 45, spoke of his years since his Navy career ended, the demons of living with a decision that resulted in nine deaths, and his goals for the future.
With the passing of time, and "personal closure" in a private visit to victims' families in Japan, how often do the fateful moment and the victims come to mind?
"Every day. Every single day," he said quietly. "I can't dwell on the past, but I remember.
"I still feel tremendous guilt. I grieve for the families. It is a heavy burden."
His daughter is 17 now, the age of some of the young men who died. "I so enjoy having her in my life, and the thought of losing her is beyond comprehension. I can not imagine the (Japanese families') loss."
Waddle was removed as skipper of the Greeneville the day after the Feb. 9, 2001, accident, when the submarine surfaced into the hull of the Ehime Maru. Waddle was demonstrating an emergency surfacing maneuver for 16 visiting civilians. Nine Japanese sailors, students and teachers were killed in the worst U.S. Navy-civilian accident since World War II.
The Navy's court of inquiry found no evidence of criminal intent or deliberate misconduct, and Waddle was not court-martialed. He was allowed to retire in October 2001 with all the benefits and pension of a Navy commander intact.
Now making his living full time on the lecture circuit, Waddle addressed 650 members of the Western Independent Bankers Association on Sunday as the keynote speaker at the Hyatt Regency on Kauai.
His hour-long program entitled "Failure Is Not Final" evolved after the January 2003 release of his book, "The Right Thing."
When he began making the rounds of talk shows in television and radio to promote the book, he found people asking him to come speak at their fund-raisers, conventions and churches.
Today, his income is substantial despite the fact he fund-raises for nonprofits and at least four times a month has his full honorarium check endorsed to favorite charities, including Habitat for Humanity.
Military institutions have hosted him, but noticeably absent in his busy schedule are any requests from the Navy.
"There is a reluctance from them," Waddle said. "This is just my opinion, but my impression is they feel it would be glorifying the tragedy."
He wishes it were different. "There are officers reviewing past submarine accidents who, in their arrogance, believe it could never happen to them," he said.
Waddle left Hawaii in disgrace but credits wife Jill and his Greeneville crew's continuing support in helping him make the transition.
The Waddles moved to Washington state and lived with family members until he landed a job as project manager for an international company. The family now lives in North Carolina.
"I'm embarrassed every time I stand up to speak, embarrassed to be this example. It's humility. It's humanity. It's weakness. It's real," he said.
He is still haunted by frequent nightmares. He said they are now always about control.
"I'm always on the submarine. Something terrible is about to happen, but I am helpless to prevent it. At other times I'm warning about the danger, but no one hears me. I'm ignored." And then there are the times when the submarine is breaking apart. "Everyone gets out but me. And it is always something crazy holding me. I can't get through the hatch, or I'm trapped in some way. I have no control."
And that is the crux of his message when he speaks. An individual cannot control the hand of fate, the cruel twists. One can only control how one gets through and endures with dignity, integrity, character.
Waddle said he accepted full responsibility in the Ehime Maru sinking, and although "there are people who would've been pleased to see me fail," he has forgiven himself and is moving forward as best he can.
He is upbeat when he speaks and is touched by people who contact him with stories of their own burdens.
"One fireman told me how he evaluated a burning building and thought it safe. He led in a team and the roof collapsed. Several died. A young mother, careful and caring, backed her car over her child. It died. One executive was responsible for a huge financial loss in her company. She took responsibility."
All of them told Waddle his words gave them a renewed sense of courage.
Kristi Lawton of Clarke American Checks Inc., in San Antonio, said after hearing Waddle at the Hyatt, "He has literally changed my life."
Waddle is thinking of putting all the inspirational stories shared by people into a second book.
"After the collision, I craved to regain my anonymity," he said. "So why write the book?" And yet he did.
Waddle will return to Hawaii to speak before thousands in a two-day program Easter weekend at Blaisdell Arena sponsored by New Hope Christian Fellowship.