The Navy bungled its handling of the sinking of the Ehime Maru, the February 2001 accident that killed nine Japanese citizens, said Scott Waddle, former commander of the Navy’s U.S.S. Greenville. The submarine sliced into and sank the Japanese training vessel while showboating in waters off Honolulu, and Waddle’s book about his experiences is set to debut next week. “The Navy screwed this up in every manner possible,” he said in an interview published today in the military newsmagazine Stars and Stripes.
According to the article, some proceeds from the sale of the book will go to St. Louis High School for the maintenance of the local Ehime Maru Memorial (although Waddle refused to say how much). The book may be translated into Japanese, he said, and a movie deal is possible.
Waddle, who until now has remained relatively silent since the tragedy, has authored “The Right Thing,” which promises “the untold story of the deadly collision.” The book documents the fateful Feb. 9 voyage, the firestorm of controversy it triggered, his fall from grace in the Navy, the military inquiry (and his decision to testify), and his attempts to make peace with the families of those killed in the accident.
Four students and five instructors died aboard the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel that was used for training, when Waddle ordered an “emergency blow” a dramatic maneuver in which the 9,000-ton submarine surfaces so fast it shoots partly out of the water. Waddle and his crew had not spotted the Ehime Maru, and Waddle’s hopes of providing 16 civillian guests “a short voyage they would never forget” were horribly realized.
Following the tragedy, Waddle told the newsmagazine that the Navy “made several miscalculations” about him and about the Japanese perspective, lacking both vision and compassion. Central to his story is how the Navy refused to support his efforts to follow through on a promise he made to visit Japan and apologize in person. He said his superiors failed to recognize “the customs and traditions of the citizens with respect to the importance of an apology.”
Waddle said he had a chance to apologize two days after the collision, but was stymied by the Navy. Although he wrote letters and ultimately visited Japan last month (where only one victim’s families agreed to meet with him), he told the Stars and Stripes he regretted waiting so long before finally going against the Navy’s wishes and making the trip. “Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “I am glad I fulfilled my promise; at least I kept my word and my end of the bargain.”
Several chapters of “The Right Thing” are devoted to the military court of inquiry convened to investigate the accident. Much is made of his decision to testify without immunity. In a passage where his attorney Charlie Gittins’ describes the move as legal suicide, Waddle writes:
“I smiled slightly at my defense counsel’s impassioned plea. I knew Charlie wanted to protect me, but I felt compelled to take the witness stand. I believed that the truth should be known about the sorrowful events in which I had played a part. ‘I have to, Charlie, I did it. Nine people are dead because of me.'”
Ultimately, Waddle received a letter of reprimand, was reassigned to a desk job, and was allowed to retire with full benefits.
Nonetheless, Waddle said he was disappointed that the positive accomplishments of his 24-year military career no longer seemed to matter to his comrades.
“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,” he told the Stars and Stripes. “To leave the Navy after a 20-year career with not so much as even getting a handshake was heart-breaking.”
Watching the news, he said, was “very, very painful and very disheartening,” because “the public never got to see the great successes that the ship achieved and accomplished during the time I was in command.”
Waddle recalls how quickly the Navy disavowed him, refusing to discuss the promised visit to Japan with the victims families following his discharge. Indeed, when the Stars and Stripes sought comment on Waddle’s book, Navy spokesman Cmdr. David Wells told the publication, “He is a private citizen and it would be inappropriate.”
Waddle, however, told the Stars and Stripes that he has such reservations.
“I have no problems whatsoever lambasting the Navy,” he said.
Several relatives of the incident’s nine dead and the 26 survivors from the Japanese ship reached a reported $13.9 million settlement with the Navy in November. The remaining two families will sign settlement accords at the U.S. Embassy on Jan. 31, three days after Waddle’s book comes out.