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Remembering The Greeneville

Scott Waddle, skipper of the U.S. nuclear sub that collided with a Japanese fishing vessel in 2001, has written a book, "The Right Thing," that is critical of the Navy — and himself.

"We chose the topic and the title 'The Right Thing' because that's what my crew and I have done," says Waddle on The Early Show.

"It's unique that individuals on board a nuclear powered submarine involved in a tragic event can come forward and tell the truth. Not waver in their testimony, be forthright, direct, candid in their answers, and humble before a court and the scrutiny of the American public."

The USS Greeneville killed nine Japanese fishermen when it collided with the Japanese training vessel off Hawaii Feb. 9, 2001. Yet after two years had passed, an apology was given. Waddle says he had the opportunity to meet several victims' families during the court inquiry proceedings, which were within weeks of the accident. But the actual apology took a long time for a couple of reasons.

"One, the Navy was involved in a settlement process - a claims process itself would have been interrupted. It was decided while I was on active duty before I retired in October of 2001 that visiting Japan was not in the best interest. After I retired in October, it took me some time to find employment. I finally found employment in August and from that time, the resources were not available to get me to Japan. But at the earliest opportunity I did make that trip when I could," he says.

The book takes readers on board the submarine, the entire process of the court of inquiry, and the aftermath. The experience was so devastating to Waddle and his family that he actually considered committing suicide, and killing his daughter and wife, in the days following the event.

"The unfortunate thing about even thinking of such a horrible thing is that a rational person, when exposed to such incredible stress, will not think rationally. And although it was a fleeting thought, it was something that I contemplated. I did think about it. But the voice in my head kept recalling and recalling the times that I would sit down and talk with young sailors and counsel them and say, 'You can get through this stressful time in your life.'

"You can be a success. Put this behind you. Because, you know, suicide is not only one of the most selfish things that an individual can do but it's also a sin. The Bible addresses it. And as a Christian man I knew that it was wrong. As fleeting as that thought was, it was something that I did consider," he says.

Waddle says only time will allow him to heal and relieve the guilt he carries. In the meantime, he says, he deals with it one day at a time.

"It's the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. And I often dream about it. It doesn't consume me every day, but having been to Japan, having done the absolute best I possibly can to make amends and atone for my actions, I have to move on with my life. So it's important for me to try to put that behind me and move ahead. I know I have many other successes waiting for me."

And yet there are those who say that he has not been punished enough. Waddle was reprimanded, but he retired honorably. He kept his rank and pension.

"Each individual has their opinion. But the most punishing act that could have taken place as Admiral Fargo stated shortly after he administered admiral's mast to me, 'Commander Waddle was put in a position where his command was taken away. The 140 men that he served, job that he worked so hard to aspire to was removed and taken from him.' That was the greatest punishment that I ever could have endured," he says.


Waddle graduated at the top of the class at Annapolis. With 20 years' experience in the construction, maintenance and operation of nuclear-powered submarines, he was hand-picked from a highly competitive field of 250 naval officers to command a Los Angeles class fast-attack submarine.

As Commanding Officer of the USS Greenville, he managed a 140-man crew. He retired from active duty in October 2001 with the rank of commander, and lives in Washington state with his wife, Jill, and daughter, Ashley.

The following is Chapter One from "The Right Thing."

"Over my dead body! You are not going to take that witness stand, Scott. Not without immunity! I'll kill you before I allow you to take the stand to testify without immunity," my lawyer, Charlie Gittins, railed. "On second thought, I won't have to — you'd be killing yourself!"

I smiled slightly at my defense counsel's impassioned plea; he had said
something similar to me the first time I'd met him, and his attitude hadn't
changed over the weeks he had been defending me. I knew Charlie wanted
to protect me, but I felt compelled to take the stand. I honestly believed that the truth was not the worst thing that could 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."

"It was an accident, Scott. A horrible, freak accident, something that should never have happened, and it was not your fault!"

"No, Charlie. There's a time to be silent and a time to speak up for what is right. I'm the only guy who really knows what happened aboard that ship that day. I'm the only one who knows what I saw through that periscope. I have to tell the truth; I have to take responsibility and let the chips fall where they may. It's the right thing to do."

Charlie Gittins, one of the world's foremost attorneys handling military
cases, shrugged his shoulders in exasperation. Charlie knew how to build a strong defense, as well as how to mount a strong offense. He had gained
national recognition during the Navy's Tailhook scandal, and he was not
afraid to take a risk in court or go for the jugular when necessary. But from
the beginning of the trial, Charlie had adamantly opposed my testifying
without immunity before the naval court of inquiry, and he had informed the
court of that decision early on. When Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander
in chief of the Pacific Fleet, refused to grant me immunity, Charlie stuck to
his guns. He would not allow me to testify during the inquiry without immunity.

The risks were too high. These were serious charges: I was suspected of
dereliction of duty, improper hazarding of a vessel, and negligent homicide.
If I said the wrong thing or answered the three-officer panel in any way that
incriminated me, I could be subjected to court-martial, tried, convicted, and
imprisoned. This was no trifling matter. Nine Japanese civilians — four of
them teen-agers — were dead as a result of my choices.

I had ordered the emergency main ballast tank blow that had brought the USS Greeneville, the nuclear attack submarine I had commanded, ripping up through the water and smashing into a Japanese fishing boat, the Ehime Maru, off the coast of Pearl Harbor on Feb. 9, 2001. The Greeneville's steel rudder, specially reinforced to tear through ice, tore diagonally through the underbelly of the Japanese ship, causing it to sink within minutes.

Worse yet — to the Japanese public, at least — I had been entertaining civilian guests, two of whom were at the sub's controls at the time of the impact. On a broader scale, it was the first major foreign-policy challenge for the newly inaugurated president, George W. Bush.

Devastated as I was at the deaths of the nine innocent people and the
negative publicity for our country, I was nonetheless confident that the
Navy, the nation, and the world would see the tragedy for what it was — a
horrible accident. Although I knew I wouldn't walk away unscathed, I did
hope to walk away with my life and my dignity.

But things had not gone well during the inquiry. Several of my officers and crew members had testified with immunity, and they had answered truthfully. But through their pointed questions, the admirals had painted a picture of the Greeneville's captain — me — rushing through procedures, running a loose and informal ship environment, and showing off for the distinguished visitors who had been aboard the Greeneville for a demonstration cruise that fateful day.

For 11 days, I had sat silently in the courtroom, with the family members of the Japanese victims sitting behind me and drilling holes in my head with their glaring eyes. A Japanese submarine admiral sat facing me on the court of inquiry as a nonvoting adviser, an unprecedented move in American military justice. Every time some detail of the Ehime Maru's plight
was discussed, the Japanese officer winced, sending the victims' families into loud wails and sobs resounding throughout the inquiry room.

Despite the perilous odds and awkward circumstances, Charlie Gittins had outdone himself, challenging evidence, pointing out contradictions in the testimony of witnesses, and subtly cautioning the court against looking for a scapegoat. Still, as the inquiry dragged on for days, it became increasingly clear that the court was doing precisely that. This accident was a huge embarrassment for the Navy and for our nation at a time when everyone in the military, me included, hoped that with the change of political guard in Washington would come a change in attitude toward the nuclear submarine force that had played such a vital role in winning the Cold War. Now those hopes had been dashed. Somebody had to take a fall for it, and, as the court of inquiry progressed, it became more and more obvious that the court had already decided that the sacrificial lamb would be me. I recognized that, and in some ways I even accepted that as part of the responsibility for my role in what had happened nine miles off the coast of Oahu. But if I was going down, I wanted the truth to be known. Beyond that, my crew was my family; I didn't want anyone else to go down with me. I had to testify, with immunity or not.

To admit my mistakes publicly did not come easily to me. While I had always appeared bold and self-confident in public, I'd spent my entire life craving the approval of my parents, my peers, and my superior officers in the military. Inwardly, I was crying out for attention and acceptance, and I'd do
almost anything to prove that I deserved it. Throughout my career I had driven myself not just to succeed, but to excel. As captain of the Greeneville, I'd pushed my crew hard, and together we'd become the envy of the Pacific Fleet.

To admit my wrong decisions was to acknowledge failure on a colossal level. No longer would I be touted as the Navy's golden boy, on a fast track to higher command positions within the submarine community, with hopes of possibly rising even higher in Navy echelons. No longer would I be respected and praised as I had been for most of my naval career. To admit my mistakes would be to admit defeat, something I had been well trained never to do. By taking the witness stand, I would willingly subject myself to further public disgrace, derision, and condemnation. But in my heart and mind, I knew I had no choice. I had to tell the truth.

"Okay, Scott," Charlie acquiesced. "If you're going to do this, let's at
least try to prepare. Let's meet after dinner to go over some of the questions the court will likely ask you."

"Okay, fine," I replied. "Better yet, why don't we have our legal team — you, Mark Patton, Kimberlie Young, and Jennifer Herrold — come to our home for dinner, and we'll get an earlier start? I'll even cook."

Charlie gave me his best "you've-got-to-be-kidding" look, but he agreed.

That evening, I made dinner for my wife, daughter, and legal team. We ate quickly, and then it was time to get to work. "You better sit down," Charlie nodded to me. "This is going to take a while."

My wife, Jill, brought in some refreshments from the kitchen of our comfortable home on Hospital Point, in the heart of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Since the Navy owned the property, it was a foregone conclusion that if we lost our case, we'd also lose our lovely home, my salary, and the pension I had earned by serving nearly 20 years in the military. The stakes were high, not just for me, but also for Jill and our 13-year-old daughter, Ashley.

I could see the tension in Jill's face as she set some drinks on the coffee table. I knew this ordeal had been extremely draining for her, but she had valiantly stood with me, going to the courtroom every day, dealing with the media frenzy surrounding our every move, and enduring the public humiliation of having her husband's every thought, word, and action analyzed for hidden defects. She sat stoically as the court of inquiry castigated everything from my brash personality to my less-than-perfect eyesight.

All the while, Jill continually encouraged me and lovingly cared for me. While I could not — dared not — speak to the press, for fear that my comments could be used against me, Jill did. She attempted to protect me as much as possible.

Jill possessed the rare combination a military man looks for in a wife—the ability to be soft and sweet, yet firm and tough. She understood the pressures of Navy life, including the inherent tensions that accompany leadership positions. She was vocal when it came to expressing her opinions, but as an officer's wife, she recognized that discretion is often the better part of valor. Jill knew how to keep me happy when I was home, and she could be happy even when I was away. She was extremely competent to run our household while I was on a six-month-long deployment at sea.

Nevertheless, the prolonged absences took a toll on our marriage.

Together for more than 14 years, our relationship had been rocky at
times, and on more than a few occasions we both wondered if our family could survive. But in recent years we had developed an almost spiritual bond that had deepened with time, and our love and commitment to each other were stronger than ever. Indeed, the Ehime Maru accident had galvanized our hearts together. If for no other reason, I owed it to Jill to fight for the truth.

I took a sip of coffee. "Okay, guys. Let's get going."

The defense team—comprised of Charlie; my friend and Naval Academy classmate Commander Mark Patton, serving as our technical expert; Kimberlie Young, a lawyer who worked in the legal services office at Pearl Harbor; and Jennifer Herrold, a defense lawyer who had been assigned to me early on — both members of the Navy judge advocate general's corps went to work grilling me in preparation for what was sure to be the most probing, nerve-racking day of my life. Throughout the night we worked. Again and again, Charlie and the others asked tough questions, going through the accident from every angle. Over and over again, I asked myself a more searing set of questions: How could this have happened? Why did God allow this set of circumstances to occur? What's going to happen tomorrow? I had spent my entire adult life preparing to go to war. How could I be 41years of age, at the pinnacle of my career, and suddenly, in a matter of minutes, see my whole world blown apart? Nothing in my earlier experiences could possibly have prepared me for this.

Copyright © 2003 by Scott Waddle. All rights reserved. Integrity Publishers. Used by permission.