Dressed in his officer's whites, Commander Scott Waddle stood motionless on the grass last Wednesday, staring into the waters in front of his house inside Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Commander is an empty title at this point. Waddle was relieved of his command of the U.S.S. Greeneville immediately after the nuclear attack submarine collided with the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru on Feb. 9, an accident that killed nine of the people aboard that vessel. For Waddle, it has been two months of public humiliation and recrimination. Yet even after the Navy put him through a wringer of an inquiry, Navy men found a way to confer dignity on him. On Wednesday, Waddle had dressed in uniform and come out to the waters for a rendezvous.
The Greeneville's crew knew he would be standing there as they took the sub out of dry dock and to sea for the first time since the tragedy. As they approached in the narrow channel, they sounded the whistle, in tribute to their former skipper. On the bridge the replacement captain, Tony Cortese, waved to his predecessor, barely 200 yds. away. Waddle was standing on his own, his right arm raised in stiff salute. It was a sailor's leave-taking, barely noticed by anyone else on the shore. When the ship had passed, Waddle slumped, his head bowed, and turned back toward his house, his eyes teary. "That was the hardest thing I have done in my life," he said. "It was like the last nail in the coffin."
Scott Waddle's rendezvous with his submarine contrasted sharply with the celebratory reception, also in Hawaii, of another Navy man, Lieut. Shane Osborn, whose actions saved the lives of a crew of 23 after his EP-3 spy plane collided with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet, killing its pilot. With China, a budding rival for power in the Pacific, Washington adopted a hard line, waging a diplomatic battle for more than a week to avoid an apology to Beijing for a crash the Pentagon claims was caused by the Chinese pilot in the first place. The U.S., of course, apologized profusely to Tokyo over the Ehime Maru. The ship was on a harmless holiday cruise, and Japan is the main military ally of the U.S. in Asia. And so now, while Osborn is hailed for his cool-headed actions, Waddle, once expected to be a model of the Navy's new heroes, faces still more ignominy.
The official report from the three admirals who took testimony from 33 witnesses at last month's court of inquiry into the sinking of the Japanese ship has now been handed to Admiral Thomas Fargo, chief of the Pacific Fleet. On the basis of their report, Fargo must decide whether to submit Waddle to a court-martial or give him some lesser form of Navy punishment. One possibility: an administrative proceeding known as an admiral's mast, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days of confinement to quarters, 60 days of restricted duty and forfeiture of a month's pay. At the inquiry, Waddle was informed he was suspected of dereliction of duty, improper hazarding of a vessel and negligent homicide, all of which could carry jail terms at a court-martial. In any scenario, Waddle's once brilliant career is over. And while his legal battle with the Navy may end, his battle with himself will continue.