Waddle finds new direction
By Matt Sedensky
Sometimes retired Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle pulls out a stainless-steel compass for direction.
Advertiser library photo Dec. 14, 2002
Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle offers prayers at a memorial in Uwajima, Japan, for the nine people killed when his submarine collided with a fishing boat.
Advertiser library photo Dec. 14, 2002
"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 ... this compass is a physical, tangible thing that I could feel."
Waddle says despair over the accident at one point drove him to contemplate killing his family and himself. But now, nearly two years after that day off Pearl Harbor when the Greeneville rammed the Ehime Maru, 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 he devoted his life to.
Waddle hopes his book can help others battling difficult times.
"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."
Just days after the tragedy, Waddle says, it was too much. It was after 4 o'clock on a Sunday morning, and haunted by his memories, Waddle couldn't sleep.
Scott Waddle's "The Right Thing" is scheduled for release tomorrow.
"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.
The book is co-written 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 writes.
"It was a show," he said, "and it was also there to end what I thought was to have been a perfect P.R. 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. He was ostracized by friends and neighbors and would eventually be hauled into a military court.
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. 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.
Waddle says Navy brass broke promises to support his trip to Japan to apologize to victims' families and allowed politics and a desire to reach a quick settlement dictate their response to the tragedy.
He says the Navy worsened the financial disaster of the accident for him by forcing him to repay almost $19,000 in annual incentive pay even as legal fees and other expenses mounted.
But his financial stress was nothing compared to the real losses, he said.
"It cost so many people so much," Waddle said.
Nine families lost their loved ones. The U.S. Navy spent tens of millions of dollars on recovery efforts and restitution.
Fellow crew members were passed over for promotions.
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.
Waddle says the collision at sea 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."