Waddle moves past tragedy

He details struggles with the
Ehime Maru tragedy in a new book

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

Sometimes, when his memories become too haunting, retired Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle pulls out a stainless steel compass for direction.

It was a gift from a man the ousted commander of the USS Greeneville had never met, arriving with a note not long after his submarine accidentally plowed into a Japanese fisheries training boat, killing nine boys and men and bringing him unfathomable agony.

"Scott, I have no idea why I've given this to you, but I hope that you find your way in life and regain a sense of purpose," Waddle recalled the note as saying. "When you start to feel like you're going to slip into a state of depression or fall back into that abyss that I don't want to go to, this compass is a physical, tangible thing that I could feel."

Nearly two years after that horrific day off Pearl Harbor when the Greeneville rapidly surfaced into the Ehime Maru in the worst civilian Navy accident in a generation, Waddle says he is finding new direction in life.

He says he had no choice.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about this event," Waddle, 43, said in an interview from his home in Raleigh, N.C. "But I don't wallow in the past. I can't look to the past, I have to look ahead. Because if I continue to look in the past, that will consume me."

Waddle's journey from Navy golden boy to pariah after the Feb. 9, 2001, collision at sea, his appearance before a military court of inquiry and his forced exit from the service are detailed in his book, "The Right Thing," to be released tomorrow by Integrity Publishing.

Waddle gives his side of the story: A man following his heart through tragedy, then feeling betrayed by the organization to which he devoted his life.

Waddle says his face has largely faded from the minds of the American public but is worth resurrecting to help others battling difficult times or personal tragedies.

"Words are not adequate to describe the depression, the crisis, the anguish, the stress that one feels day in and day out," Waddle said. "It serves as an opportunity, as an example -- how it's possible to endure, to survive a crisis."

The book is co-authored by Ken Abraham, who also helped Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer, the "Let's Roll" hero from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, tell her story.

It covers Waddle's upbringing and personal life, but the heart of the 242-page book begins on that February day when he was at the helm of the sub on an outing with 16 special guests aboard.

Near the planned end of the trip, Waddle ordered an emergency main ballast blow, shooting the 7,000-ton nuclear sub from a depth of 400 feet to the surface in a matter of seconds.

"It was the ultimate roller-coaster ride," Waddle wrote.

"It was a show," he said, "and it was also there to end what I thought was to have been a perfect PR event."

What followed was a perfect nightmare. The two vessels collided, and four teens and five adults went down with the Ehime Maru, creating an international incident that devastated a small town in Japan and shook the U.S. Navy at its core.

Waddle's Navy career essentially ended at that moment. His face was in living rooms everywhere. He was ostracized by friends and neighbors and would eventually be hauled into a military court.

Just two days after the tragedy, it was too much. It was after 4 o'clock on a Sunday morning, and, haunted by his memories, Waddle could not sleep.

He crawled out of bed and headed outside. And on a waterfront bench at Hospital Point, Waddle said, he contemplated killing his wife and daughter and then himself.

"I just thought, 'God, it would be so easy,'" Waddle said. "None of us would have to endure this horrible event."

His faith, he says, gave him the strength to endure. And the crisis, in turn, strengthened his faith.

A practicing Episcopalian, Waddle compares himself in his book to the biblical Job, who lost everything but kept his faith. Such a comparison, he knows, opens him to being labeled a crybaby.

Waddle accepts responsibility for the tragedy but in the same breath notes other crew members could have helped stop it.

He says it was important to apologize in person to victims' families, but also notes the Japanese never apologized for their bombing of Pearl Harbor 61 years ago.

And he laments how unforgiving the Navy was of his mistake and how his retirement went without so much as a handshake.

Navy officials have declined comment. A spokesman for Adm. Thomas Fargo, former head of the Pacific Fleet who now is commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has said "it's not appropriate" for the admiral to comment on Waddle's book.

Waddle has lost friends, lost the career he loved, lost a way of life.

Today, civilian Scott Waddle works for a Raleigh-based global power services company.

His hair has grayed, and his face has added years of age.

In daylight, a glimpse of a Japanese teen or a white boat brings vivid flashbacks. Horrible recollections haunt some nights. Waddle says it is the first and last thing he thinks of each day.

Still, he says some good has come of it: Waddle says he has lost some arrogance, strengthened ties with family and experienced a spiritual renewal.

"But," he says, "there isn't a day when I wouldn't trade all of that to get the lives of those nine individuals back."

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