20 years after Ehime Maru tragedy, former Navy commander apologizes in new letter

A former Navy commander racked with guilt apologizes for a deadly tragedy 20 years later

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Twenty years after the Ehime Maru tragedy, the former commander of the Navy submarine that ripped through the Japanese fishing training vessel while quickly surfacing off Hawaii has issued an open letter with a new apology for the victims’ families.

Nine of the 35 people onboard the Ehime Maru were killed. Four were high school students.

Retired Navy Commander Scott Waddle said he hopes the families of those who died on the Uwajima Fisheries High School vessel will read the letter and understand he hasn’t forgotten what happened.

PODCAST: HNN Off-Air’s full interview with Cdr. Scott Waddle, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

“I remember standing there at the center of the control room when we heard the first bang and the submarine shuttered,” Waddle told Hawaii News Now. “Ship went down in 10 minutes so fast.”

Waddle was in command of the USS Greenville on Feb. 9, 2001, when the sub surfaced and ripped through the underbelly of the Ehime Maru.

After returning to Pearl Harbor, Waddle said he was overcome with guilt.

“And I thought about going in and killing my daughter, Ashley, then 13, and my wife, they were in bed sleeping it, it’d be ugly, horrible, but then I’d kill myself,” said Waddle.

“Because I saw myself going to jail, losing my military retirement pay pension, we didn’t have savings, we didn’t have equity and a house, I leave my daughter and my wife without a source of income.”

Over the years, Waddle has met with some of the victims’ families. But for the 20th anniversary of tragedy, which became an international incident, he has written an eight-page open letter.

In it, he apologizes and makes it clear that he was solely responsible for the incident.

The retired commander also explains how he wanted to apologize to them in person 20 years ago but was denied by a public affairs officer.

“That if I had been given the chance to get to meet the families to bow before them, to atone for my actions to show the remorse and that I was sorrowful, it would have immediately diffused what was great anger and hatred and disdain for me,” said Waddle.

Waddle also pointed out his first apology that was given through a news release drafted by his Navy and civilian attorneys. He questioned the word “regret” being used instead of “apologize.”

“And so, when that press release went out, man, it was like throwing gasoline on a fire,” recalled Waddle. “The families were fuming, rightfully so.”

After receiving an official reprimand and an honorable discharge, Waddle says he’s struggled for years with night terrors and reckless decisions.

But in coming to terms with the tragedy, he wrote a book and made speeches about his journey.

“And I share this with large audiences that despite whatever horrific challenges you face, in your life, the despair, the hopelessness, whatever, there’s always a chance to get through it,” said Waddle.

He only recently found a way to forgive himself with the help of a therapist.

“And it finally happened this year, just because I forgave myself doesn’t mean I forget that I don’t carry the grief or the burden,” said Waddle.

“But at least now, it doesn’t consume me like a cancer, as it did for 19 years.”

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