Former USS Greeneville skipper talks about Ehime Maru sinking's aftermath
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Another day in tropical paradise and Cmdr. Scott Waddle prepared for an 8 a.m. run of his nuclear submarine USS Greene-ville, this day with 16 special guests aboard.
After almost 20 years as a commissioned officer, Waddle, the Annapolis grad who captained the sub, knew the drill. He welcomed the visitors — including 14 Texans helping fund the restoriation of the USS Missouri — warmly. That his vessel would be entrusted with this duty was another plum for a crew already building a reputation for chrome-plated competence.
“My goal for the day,” Waddle recalls in his soon-to-be-published book, “The Right Thing,” was to provide the guests “with a short voyage they would never forget.”
A few hours later that day — Feb. 9, 2001 — the Greeneville executed a showy “emergency blow,” surfacing rapidly in the waters off Oahu — and ramming and sinking the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru. Four teens and five adults died on the trawler used to train fisheries students.
Waddle has written a book that details that ill-fated ascent of the Greeneville and his subsequent fall from Navy grace. He faced a military court of inquiry and received a letter of reprimand five weeks later. Shunted to a desk job, he was allowed to retire that Oct. 1 with full benefits.
The ceremonies usually marking the end of a quarter-century naval career were absent.
“I walked out the door on Oct. 1 as though I was simply leaving for the day,” he wrote in the book co-authored by Ken Abraham. “After 24 years in the Navy, it was over, just like that.”
On Nov. 14, the Navy reached a $13.9 million settlement with 33 of 35 Japanese plaintiffs involved. The remaining two are to sign a settlement with the Navy at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo Jan. 31.
Three days earlier, Waddle’s book will go on sale.
In the lead-up to his book publication, Waddle was interviewed by Stars and Stripes. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Stars and Stripes: When did you decide to write a book?
Waddle: I had hoped … I would be at least contacted, by the Navy to go to Japan and fulfill the promise I had made to the families … to offer them an apology. As each day passed, I questioned whether such a visit was ever going to be possible. … In October 2001, our Ehime Maru recovery efforts were in full swing to … attempt to obtain the remains of those who were lost. … All of this kind of came to a head at the end of 2001, the beginning of 2002.
About that time, I was asked to go to Connecticut to speak to a Christian men’s group. There, I met … Eric Eitel, vice president for Integrity Worship and Integrity Music. It was through Eric that I met [president and CEO of Integrity Publishers] Byron Williamson and started a dialogue with him.
Stripes: Who gets any proceeds?
Waddle: There are proceeds that I receive, but … we want to make sure that the proceeds from the book go to a cause and serve some benefits. St. Louis High School in Hawaii will receive proceeds from the book to use on the upkeep of the memorial [to the Ehime Maru victims].
Stripes: What percent, exactly, of the book’s proceeds will go to St. Louis High School for the Ehime Maru Memorial?
Waddle: Regarding the proceeds of the book, I am hesitant to state a percentage until we realize revenues from sales. Let me state that there will be adequate funding to help maintain the memorial, provided the funds are managed properly, for many years.
Stripes: Any plans to translate the book into Japanese?
Waddle: Byron Williamson is working with his Japanese counterparts to determine if the market will support undertaking such a large-scale project.
Stripes: What impact has all this had on your wife, Jill; daughter, Ashley; and others in your family?
Waddle: The most dramatic impact … was strengthening the relationship I had with my father, Dan Waddle, a retired Air Force colonel. For my entire adolescent life and pretty much of my adult life, he has been in the background. … This unfortunate event has brought me very close to my father.
As far as the relationship with my wife and daughter, our family is very close, and has grown closer. If I didn’t have the support of my wife, not only as my best friend but also as someone who was there to stand by me through this horrible event, I wouldn’t have survived it.
Stripes: What’s it been like?
Waddle: Extremely painful. Every moment of our life was absorbed by this event. Constantly on TV, we’d see my face as the key news item. It was very, very painful and very disheartening. … The public never got to see the great successes that the ship achieved and accomplished during the time I was in command.
… Members on the waterfront that knew the crew and knew me … would ask, “How on earth did this happen to this crew? How is it possible that a crew that was so good could have something so horrible occur? … No, say it’s any crew, but not the Greeneville!”
Stripes: It was good enough that the Navy wanted you to show it off, right?
Waddle: That was the unfortunate thing.
Stripes: Do you still try to stay in touch with those guys?
Waddle: Yeah, I still keep in touch with several crew members and former shipmates, and I still counsel them and advise them on career moves and decisions and issues through e-mail. I had hoped that the ones who served with me would not suffer in a manner that I would have to endure. Granted, the members of my crew did.
I’m still a very strong supporter of the Navy, and men and women in uniform. But I believe there were select individuals in key leadership roles within the Navy that made some bad decisions, and as such they had a significant dramatic adverse impact on my life.
They made my quality of life miserable the final months before I left service, and managed to punish me more severely by penalizing me, and demanding that I repay bonuses and incentives that were awarded me during the time I was on active duty that I thought I rightfully earned.
People reading that might say, “Well the guy’s a whiner. He got an honorable discharge. He’s receiving his pension. He didn’t go to jail, and what more does he want?” All I asked for was to be treated fairly, and to have the Navy act in an honorable fashion, just as I intended to do while I was on active duty.
To leave the Navy after a 20-year career with not so much as even getting a handshake was heart-breaking.
Stripes: You got no support from your peers?
Waddle: There are a number of other officers who’ve been in my place who’ve said things like, “Scott, my God, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come to periscope depth, and there’s something out there, and I say, ‘Oh my God, where did that come from?’”
Stripes: In your book, you say the Navy stifled your defense efforts and generally treated you unfairly.
Waddle: It’s like Charles Gittins [Waddle’s civilian attorney] was quoted as saying in the U.S. News and World Report magazine article released in December on the military criminal justice system. He pointed out that they don’t often call it a justice system, but rather a judicial process.
In the end, my biggest complaint … is that the Navy screwed this up in every manner possible. Where an opportunity existed for me to apologize two days after the event, it was a missed opportunity.
Fortunately, I was able to deliver personal letters through the consulate general of Japan. I should’ve gone against the Navy’s wishes shortly after I retired and should have figured out a way to get back to Uwajima to make the personal apology earlier, but hindsight is 20/20. I am glad I fulfilled my promise; at least I kept my word and my end of the bargain.
Stripes: How did you feel testifying without immunity at the court of inquiry?
Waddle: I knew in my heart of hearts that testifying was not only the right thing to do, but it was something that I had to do because I promised the families that I would do so.
And I knew that the Navy didn’t expect me to take the stand and they wouldn’t be prepared. When Charles Gittins, at 7:45 that morning, went downstairs to tell them I would testify … they all about had a fit.
I didn’t know the charges until they were read before I testified. “Negligent homicide.” When those words were spoken it was like dropping an anvil on my head. I thought, “Oh God, if ever you were with me, be with me now.” What commanding officer in his right mind would intentionally hazard his vessel and hazard the lives of another person?
I wanted there to be no doubt how Scott Waddle acted when it was time to ante up and stand tall. I didn’t want there to be any questions. If that is my legacy, then that’s not a bad legacy to have.
Stripes: Has the Navy implemented any new regulations to prevent this happening again?
Waddle: I don’t know, but I surmise that the procedure for conducting an emergency surfacing evolution has been rewritten to ensure that a “high look” is performed to verify that there are no close surface contacts or possible threats in the area.
Stripes: So where do you work and what type of work are you doing?
Waddle: I work for ABB Inc., in its power systems division. It’s a global organization headquartered in Zurich, but the U.S. power systems group is here in Raleigh, N.C.
Stripes: Do you utilize some of the expertise you developed in the Navy in your current position?
Waddle: Yes, and the Navy was an excellent source in preparing me from the management and leadership perspective. I was able to transfer those skills to the corporate sector very easily. Then it was a matter of acquiring knowledge and understanding of processes within our organization so that I could contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Stripes: How did your recent trip to Japan materialize, and why didn’t you go earlier?
Waddle: Adm. [Thomas] Fargo, during the nonjudicial punishment process, agreed and promised that they would help me get to Japan. I told them that I didn’t have the financial resources … and would need help from the Navy. He promised me. Keith Daly, his judge advocate, and Kimberly Young, one of my Navy attorneys, witnessed him saying he would help.
No one from the Navy … ever stepped forward to ask, “How can we help you, Scott?”
The Navy had no desire to have this problem resurface, to have any publicity regarding this event, or to have it come back on the front pages. They wanted this thing to go away, and thought that recovering the remains of the individuals … would push it under the rug. The claims and settlement process would satisfy the Japanese families and make that issue go away.
The single fault and flaw that I think runs true from the moment this event was made public until my trip to Japan, was that the Navy … made several miscalculations about the customs and traditions of the citizens with respect to the importance of an apology, and they made several miscalculations … in judging me.
Stripes: You finally went to Japan in December. What did you expect — what were your goals?
Waddle: To make it known that I wanted to fulfill a promise I made in March of 2001 … to make myself available to the families to offer a personal apology to them, because I know how important it is to them to receive an apology. The second goal was to place a wreath at the memorial at the school so I could make a public apology to the community … so they could know the apology was sincere and my acts and intentions were honorable.
I also was aware of the political pressures that several of the surviving members were subjected to when it came to the claims process. Two families, the Furuya family and the Terata family, were represented by a Japanese firm that was not recommended by the government. The group that represented the other seven families and plaintiffs … was, in fact, recommended by the Japanese government.
The explanation that I received in November of last year as to why I would not be able to lay a wreath at the memorial at the school, is because of the trauma that it might cause several of the surviving family members, as well as the students.
I didn’t buy it, but I was told it was a political response because the Furuya and Terata families were successful in helping broker my visit. … They did not fund my travel; I incurred my travel costs alone. The Navy did not help out at all and no one else helped out.
The other damning thing here is that my former Navy attorney, Jennifer Herrold, sent an e-mail to Charles Gittins to try to persuade me from coming to Japan, as did another attorney in a sister service that works on the staff of Commander, U.S. Forces Japan. He sent a separate e-mail to Charlie saying, “Scott seriously ought to reconsider this trip. He’s not covered by the status of forces agreement, he’s not protected and he might end up in jail.”
Unfortunately, it may have not have been of their own accord that they chose to send those e-mails. They may have been directed by other people to do so. … That even gave me more incentive to go.
Stripes: How did you feel that some of the families were less than pleased you were coming to visit?
Waddle: That’s a decision that I respect. I’m confident that the Terata family was not disappointed that they took the time to meet with me, and that they will find it easier to endure the aftermath of this crisis than those that chose not to meet with me.
Stripes: The last two families will reportedly settle at the end of this month. Maybe there will be some finality to the tragedy then?
Waddle: I want to make it very clear that their decision to settle was not contingent upon my willingness to come to Japan — separate and independent issues.
In July of last year, as part of their settlement process, the families expressed a desire to have me come to Japan to offer an apology and have the Navy fund it. The Navy officer who was involved in the settlement process said, “We will not discuss Scott Waddle. Scott Waddle is not part of this claims process. He is no longer in the Navy. We are not here to address anything associated with him, and we will not talk about him.”
There’s another mistake the Navy made.
Stripes: Some people may think your book would make a good movie.
Waddle: The primary objective was to provide the reader … access to the personal and public tragedy of this event. … It’s not to serve as the perfect guide for resolving personal crises but as a venue with which people can hopefully … understand that there is life after a horrible tragic event … individuals, through some basic elements of faith, family and friendship, can actually survive.
We were successful in capturing what I believe is an accurate depiction of the event as told from my perspective. That was the one vantage point that was lacking throughout the entire process of the court proceedings and the aftermath.
I wanted to … tell a story that was not vengeful, not full of retribution and not vindictive but one that was rather candid, and explained things as they happened.
By following the basic tenets of observing faith … being true to your family … being supportive of your friends … when an individual experiences a life-altering event, they will be able to endure their crisis by having those key elements, that support structure, in place.
Stripes: Have any Hollywood or independent filmmakers approached you?
Waddle: If it happens to strike a nerve with a group or an organization that feels there’s some benefit and value there for a film, then I think that opportunity can be explored.
Stripes: Imagine that you’re talking to a young person. What advice do you give if this person is considering a career as a Navy officer?
Waddle: The words of advice that a retired admiral shared with me. He said, and I pass on to everybody else that I know: “Remember that if the boss is not having fun, you can bet that the people working under him or her aren’t having fun, either.”
And what I mean by that is that so often in life, we lose sight of what’s important. We get so focused on a mission or objective that we forget to enjoy what we do. There are a lot of lessons that came out of the event that I was involved in.
Stripes: For instance?
Waddle: There was never a time when I did not listen to what my crew had to say, or felt that my crew was in a position where they could never speak up and tell me when something wasn’t right. That the court painted a picture that my crew was reluctant to say anything to me out of a fear of retribution is absolutely false.
When I as the captain looked out the periscope and said, “I don’t see anything,” the unfortunate thing is that the crew relied on my skills and abilities. If the captain didn’t see anything, then it’s OK.
Stripes: Any final thoughts about your trip to Japan?
Waddle: When I go to New York to meet with the “Today” show folks [after the book is released] and then go to see Pat Robinson of the “700 Club,” I have no problems whatsoever lambasting the Navy. That’s why the last chapter in the book is there: “Promises Broken; Promises Kept.”
The Navy ended their handling of this event in the same consistent manner as they did all along, and that’s with error, lack of compassion for the individuals that were impacted by this event and lack of vision at looking at this through the eyes of a different culture.
Joe Giordono and Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.
No comment by Navy
Navy officials at U.S. Naval Forces Japan, and at Pacific Fleet command in Hawaii, have declined repeated requests to comment on the actions and words of Scott Waddle since the former USS Greeneville captain left the Navy.
“He is a private citizen and it would be inappropriate,” said Cmdr. David Wells, a spokesman for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Japan.
— Stars and Stripes