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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 14, 2001

Ex-Navy captain Waddle searching for atonement

 •  An interview with Scott Waddle
 •  Ehime Maru nearing site for recovery

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Five months after the humiliating end of his Navy career, Scott Waddle found unexpected forgiveness in the last person he had asked. Himself.

Scott Waddle said his sorrow is now replaced with hope.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

It came during the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur. Waddle, captain of a U.S. submarine that killed nine people when it sank a civilian Japanese vessel, had been invited to Temple Shalom for the Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was asked to reflect upon the concept of atonement. There were 1,500 people in the temple.

He stood before them, he said last week, "to begin my own personal healing."

Waddle, an Episcopalian, spoke of the loss of life, of his apologies to the victims' families and, finally, of his desire "to hopefully achieve perhaps some form of acknowledgment of the act of atonement."

Waddle sees that as a key step on a journey that will reshape his life. His days since the USS Greeneville sliced through the hull of the Ehime Maru in February, filled so often with reflection and sorrow, now offer hope: Waddle believes he will rise in the ranks of corporate America, earn an MBA and find his way into the Pentagon as an undersecretary of the Navy.

All of this within seven years.

"And that may be difficult and people may just absolutely laugh at that goal," he said. "There is no competition for undersecretary of the Navy, for secretary of the Navy. Those are appointed positions."

Waddle speaks of that with humorless conviction. But it would be a long, perhaps impossible, climb back.

Bittersweet aloha

Scott Waddle said goodbye to Hawai'i, staying at the Kahala Mandarin and reflecting on the quest for atonement that lies ahead.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Last week, Waddle, 42, said goodbye to Hawai'i. It had been home to him and his wife and daughter for much of the past nine years. With his family already living with relatives in Olympia, Wash., until they decide on a more permanent move, Waddle packed up the last of their belongings.

He will miss the Islands, which made a lasting impression on him. He can still tell you the name of the street he lived on years ago in 'Aiea and the name of his barber, Gladys.

He spent his final days here at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel in a room with a sweeping ocean view, thanking friends and trying to be upbeat after spending much of the past few weeks traveling the country for job interviews.

Ironing creases into a new aloha shirt and shorts, Waddle said he was as relaxed as ever.

"I am going to move on," he said. "I have a family to take care of. I have another career to embark on. I will succeed. I will do well. And I am not done with the Navy. I still have a goal to figure out how to improve the quality of life of our sailors and our Marines and if that is in the political arena, then so be it."

It was a bittersweet departure filled, as it has been for months, with personal reflection.

The routine that day at sea had become hurried, the events rushed. The former captain has turned them over and over in his mind, found half a dozen scenarios that would have turned the disaster into a near-miss.

"I have a lot of what-ifs," he said. "But I also know that is part of the healing process for me. Because I have to go through that self-flagellation. I also learned through Yom Kippur that you have to forgive yourself and that is very important because it starts the healing process."

Waddle and his crew on the Greeneville had been the pride of Pearl Harbor. He was confident, even cocky. Whatever the job, it was always done with high marks. It was his first command at sea, a thing to be cherished.

But the collision and its aftermath marked a tense period between the United States and Japan, especially when it was learned that civilians were aboard his ship that day as guests of the Navy. It also prompted a rarely used court of inquiry to determine the cause and assign blame, although Waddle knew immediately that his once-shining career as a Navy officer was finished.

Every day a struggle

Tonight on News 8
 •  Watch News 8 at 10 p.m. tonight for an interview with Scott Waddle.
It became official in April at a discipline hearing known as an admiral's mast. The commander announced he would retire after 20 years as an officer. He was given a desk job until his last day of active duty on Sept. 30. Every day in between was a struggle.

"When you fall from grace, from the good graces of an organization, whether it is an institution like our military or a large company ... you find yourself on the wrong side of the fence," Waddle said. "And where an individual may have at one point been looked upon as a very talented, capable, engaging, gregarious individual, all that doesn't matter anymore."

That doesn't mean he is not without suitors. Waddle said he has at least six good job offers from good companies large and small. Offers have come from Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston, among others. He won't provide specifics.

"They are positions that involve management and leadership," he said. "The sectors vary. It could be in the food industry. It could be in logistics support. It could be out-sourcing of information, an information technology company."

He has surprised close friends with the interviews he has received, some from companies that have undergone layoffs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Corporate executives put more value in the way Waddle handled himself during the grueling, 12-day court of inquiry than they did in any sort of blame for the collision.

"The one advantage I have had is in the name-to-face recognition and the perception that I handled myself in a dignified fashion," Waddle said. "That has assisted me greatly in getting in to meet with several of these organizations."

His fear is that he will be considered a novelty that will grow tiresome after six months. He wants to work for a company that is ethical.

The military still takes him seriously, however.

Waddle has lectured about the collision and its aftermath to other military men and women since his discipline. His theme: Bad things happen to good people.

In May, he spoke to 500 Air Force people at a base, and he has been invited to speak at an Air Force Academy conference in February.

His alma mater has also called.

"The Naval Academy likewise has asked me to come and speak to their character development organization because they are using the Greeneville accident as a case study," Waddle said. "But I'm concerned that the focus of the event and the true underlying issues that led to that accident may be missed. And so I am interested to go to learn, to see what material is presented so I can help them, perhaps, refine it."

Wants to visit Uwajima

There is one thing missing along Waddle's path to redemption. A journey to the fishing village of Uwajima, Japan, home to the crew and students of the Ehime Maru.

He never made the trip while in uniform because his commanding officers said the timing wasn't right. Now, as a civilian, he doesn't know if a new employer will allow him the time or if he can afford it.

The problem has vexed him right from the start.

Not long after the collision, Waddle said he wanted to apologize personally to family members in Uwajima but he would not be able to do that until after the court of inquiry and his discipline.

At that point, his attempts to convey his feelings had already gone poorly.

When family members of the victims first traveled to Hawai'i in February, he was told by the Navy not to meet with them. Then his attorney, Charles Gittins, gave similar advice, saying that an apology was tantamount to an admission of guilt. Everyone, from the president to admirals in his fleet, had apologized to Japan except Waddle.

It was a matter of honor, something Waddle understood well.

"They wanted to hear it from the one person that mattered and that was the man who caused the accident," Waddle said.

Gittins helped Waddle draft a letter in which he expressed his "most sincere regret."

"The word 'regret' landed like a stink bomb in the middle of that quagmire and didn't help my position," Waddle said.

He was viewed as a man who didn't care, he said. That's when Waddle decided to throw caution to the wind and personally deliver letters of apology to the Japanese Consulate.

There was some measure of connection during the court of inquiry, when Waddle was able to meet with the few family members who had come to Hawai'i for the proceedings. He still thought a trip to Japan was going to be possible and that the Navy would sanction the visit.

Instead, Waddle said his commanding officers told him several times that his presence in Uwajima would not be well-received.

"I made a promise," he said. "I believe I have conducted myself in an honorable fashion."

He wonders, though, if the families would really throw him in jail.

"I think it will be difficult for the Japanese families to forgive," Waddle said. "And as I have said to them in private, 'I can't ask you to forgive me for this act. I can only ask you to accept my apology knowing that forgiveness is something I may never achieve but that it may come in time.'"

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.