THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: the U.S. sub he commanded hit a Japanese fishing vessel with deadly results; Commander Scott Waddle joins us for his first live prime-time interview. He'll be here for the hour; it's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
On April 25, President George W. Bush said: "I know this fine American patriot feels terrible about what took place. It was a terrible accident, and like any good commander he's taking the heat. He is taking the hit."
We welcome Commander Scott Waddle to LARRY KING LIVE. He commanded the USS Greeneville. You all know the story; we'll get into it.
Why, why submarines? What took you to submarines?
COMMANDER SCOTT WADDLE, U.S. NAVY: Because I didn't have the eyesight to get me into the seat of a fighter aircraft.
KING: So you couldn't go up, you went down.
S. WADDLE: I did, indeed.
KING: So why, to that level, though? I mean, that is a tough duty?
S. WADDLE: It was intriguing. My company officer at the Naval Academy when I was young midshipman was a submariner. There was a unique aura about that assignment, not only that, but a lot of mystique, it was a silent service. Not a lot of people knew much about submarining. And my first cruise was on the USS Skipjack back in 1978, and I was hooked after that.
KING: Was that nuclear?
S. WADDLE: It was, indeed.
KING: Was that very different, by the way? The concept of serving on a nuclear submarine?
S. WADDLE: I can't tell you, but having made friends that were World War II diesel submariners, the camaraderie is the same, the technology has changed.
KING: Also, the age of the young men are very young.
S. WADDLE: They are indeed.
KING: They are younger than most you see.
S. WADDLE: Well, the average man on board a submarine is about 21 years of age. He's been out of high school approximately three years, entrusted to operate this multi-billion dollar platform, and they do it with precision and expertise.
KING: How did you like it, Commander?
S. WADDLE: It's a camaraderie. Again, when I was under way for the very first time, it was the relationship the rapport that I established with these young men. And that is the reason I stayed in. It certainly wasn't because of the military pay at the time, which has improved since 1981.
KING: Why did you go to the Naval Academy?
S. WADDLE: I was accepted there. Again, refused admission into the Air Force Academy, and things just worked out well. I knew that there was a chance I could be a pilot at the -- at the outcome of graduation at the Naval Academy, but unfortunately, my eyesight didn't allow me to do such.
KING: Your eyes look fine. Is it contact lenses?
S. WADDLE: 20/25 corrective lenses. But you had to be 20/20 and you couldn't wear corrective lenses. My dad is a pilot, my stepdad's a pilot, and they both said, Scott, we know you well enough that if you sat in the back seat, you wouldn't want to go along for the ride. Don't do it. I didn't.
KING: You were raised the most in Texas, right?
S. WADDLE: I was a military brat.
S. WADDLE: In Air Force, career Air Force. Born in Japan, lived in England, Italy, numerous other states throughout the United States, but raised as a son of an Air Force officer.
KING: What was your first command?
S. WADDLE: My first and only command in my career was the USS Greeneville. But the first submarine I was attached to was the USS Alabama, SSBN 731.
KING: Do you go all around on it? Travel a lot of miles?
S. WADDLE: Well, we traveled numerous miles on the USS Alabama after the ship was commissioned and started the strategic deterrent patrols. It's a Trident ballistic missile submarine that's home ported in Farmington, Washington.
KING: Commander, do you ever think, and some have thought this through history, there was a movement once to ban them -- that they're sneaky? That the submarine is not fair?
S. WADDLE: I wouldn't say "not fair."
KING: All's fair?
S. WADDLE: All is fair in war, but the submarine was perhaps the first stealth platform. It just took the submariners a while to recognize that that is what it was called. But we...
KING: That is right. They are.
S. WADDLE: It's a formidable platform. It can reach 75 percent of the land mass throughout the world. Unbeknownst to many, the submarine is there lurking. If you take a look at historical events, certainly the unfortunate war, the Falklands War that occurred. It took just one torpedo, the sinking of the General Belgrano, and that essentially kept all the surface ships in harbor.
KING: Do you feel a sense of duty, I mean -- or do you feel lonely down there?
S. WADDLE: You are isolated. But you know, today, with the advent of electronic e-mail, where families can transmit short messages to their families, and keep us abreast and informed of what's happening at home. It makes life aboard a submarine a lot more bearable.
KING: When did you get the command of the Greeneville?
S. WADDLE: March 19, 1999.
KING: So, very recent.
S. WADDLE: Two years ago.
KING: A big day in your life.
S. WADDLE: A fantastic day in my life.
S. WADDLE: I was. I was apprehensive, you know, this is what a naval officer, man or woman, works for their 20-year career to get to that pinnacle assignment: command at sea.
There's the mystique, there's the aura, it is a fantastic experience, and truly, was the most memorable event in the 20 years of naval service.
KING: Where did you go on your first jaunt?
S. WADDLE: It was local area operations. As I recall, some of my friends, I'm standing on the bridge of the submarine, my dad was on the pier, watching us get underway, and the officer of the deck looked up to me and said, permission granted, captain, to cast off all lines and get the ship under way.
S. WADDLE: I looked over my shoulder, not realizing he's talking to me, and said, my God, I'm the man. Lieutenant, get under way.
KING: I must tell the audience that I made a submarine trip, along with a bunch of other friends, some co-workers, off San Diego. In fact, you were there that day.
S. WADDLE: I was indeed. The Greeneville was moored two piers away from the Ohio.
KING: And I went down with our dear admiral friend.
S. WADDLE: Good man.
KING: We should say his name.
S. WADDLE: Admiral Al Konetzni. We refer to him as Big Al.
KING: Al Konetzni, who's heading off for Norfolk, and they don't come any better.
S. WADDLE: No, sir, they don't.
KING: I went down. It was an exhilarating day. I learned a lot about the people who served there. I had a great time. Then the question comes to mind: Why do submarines take civilians?
S. WADDLE: Distinguished visitor program is one that is important, because it helps educate America. Now, it is just not corporate executives, businessmen -- we take young boys, girls, educators, men and women from various walks of life, to educate them and inform them on what the submarine does.
We have long been the silent service, but in this era where money is a pristine issue of concern, and our future is somewhat questionable with respect to number of submarines we want to build or need to build, I should say, for operational purposes and national security strategy purposes, it is important to get politicians, civilians, to see so that they understand what we do.
KING: And they still continue to do that, correct?
S. WADDLE: They do, indeed.
KING: Now, on that day, February 9th, that was the day where were you take people, right? In fact, that was the only purpose of the voyage...
S. WADDLE: That was the purpose of that under way.
KING: And there were how many civilians?
S. WADDLE: 17 guests total on the ship.
KING: In your own words, what happened?
S. WADDLE: To summarize it and just be very blunt?
S. WADDLE: It was a case where teamwork on board the ship -- and I was primarily responsible -- failed. I took actions at the time that I thought were prudent, but in hindsight, were not. And for an eight-minute period, as Admiral Konetzni testified, when he took the stand during the court of inquiry, I got ahead of my crew.
S. WADDLE: Meaning that I was confident, that I understood by situational awareness what the contact situation was, that contacts were distant, 7 miles away from the ship.
Unbeknownst to me, the Ehime Maru was bearing down on us at a rate of about 15 knots.
KING: And you should have known that the ship was doing that?
S. WADDLE: I should have known that.
KING: Should someone else as well have known?
S. WADDLE: Someone else should have known, but you know, the thing about this -- and it is not clear, from what you have read in the press -- is that the traditional indicators that we had on board the submarine that day didn't give us clear indication that we had a close aboard contact or a collision threat specifically.
The sonar arrival path wasn't what we customarily had seen for operating in deep water. The electronic surveillance measure equipment, which detects the presence of radar, kind of like the radar detector in an automobile, didn't show that we had a close aboard contact.
KING: Wasn't working.
S. WADDLE: It was working, fully functional. All the equipment was checked and verified by the National Transportation Board, verified to be correct. That is what is so puzzling about this, but it wasn't until the moment that the submarine was proceeding to periscope death, when my fire control technician of the watch, paging through the contact picture, hit the enter button.
Now, the computer, onboard computer, recognized that the contact was close, showed it at 4,000 yards. He unfortunately didn't recognize that.
KING: What happened to him?
S. WADDLE: He is still on board the ship, and based on the report, will face captain's mast -- nonjudicial punishment -- where the current serving commanding officer will determine what's appropriate.
KING: We'll be right back with Commander Scott Waddle. Tomorrow night, Vice President Dick Cheney. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Commander Scott Waddle. What happened -- where were you on impact?
S. WADDLE: I was in the control room, standing to the right of the officer of the deck.
KING: What happened when you hit?
S. WADDLE: We first felt a shudder, and a loud bang. It was extremely unusual. I was in the center of the control room. I was addressing the crew, as well as the guests, telling them what they should experience. The ship is now about 100 feet, you can feel the bow come out of the water, a rising sensation -- bang. A loud noise, as if someone had dropped something very large.
KING: Civilians get scared?
S. WADDLE: I don't know, because the first thing I looked at was the depth indicator, and I thought, "Maybe that's a bow plane slapping on the surface. But that's not a normal sound for this evolution." Then, a second shudder, and a slow rumble, and I knew something was gravely wrong at that time -- that we hit something. I thought it was a fishing aggregate device, maybe a buoy. But I wasn't sure. But I knew we weren't near a buoy.
KING: Have you hit things before?
S. WADDLE: Have not. No.
KING: Submarines usually don't.
S. WADDLE: Submarines don't hit things, and if you do. the captains aren't in that job very long distance.
KING: Now, as soon as you surfaced, what did you see?
S. WADDLE: I raised the periscope. First, I told the officer of the deck to slow so we wouldn't peen the mast over. And when I swung the periscope around, there, in the field of view, was the vessel, the Ehime Maru. I thought it was a whale-watching ship. I saw a high school on side, and that's when -- that's when I realized that something gravely wrong had occurred. We had hit a vessel that I thought had been dead in the water.
KING: What first action you took?
S. WADDLE: The first action I took is I ordered a head-full, a right full rudder, which was to get the submarine, which was heading away from the Ehime Maru -- she's now floundering on the surface, slowly listing, astern to starboard -- ordered a full bell so we could maneuver the submarine back to the right. I knew I had to get to the vessel as quickly as possible. She was taking on water, going down, and I was concerned about the safety or her crew.
KING: Did you rescue anybody?
S. WADDLE: We did not, personally. We remained in the area until the Coast Guard came to take the remaining survivors.
KING: Could you have rescued some?
S. WADDLE: On that day it's possible we could have, but the question of concern was would we have caused more personal injury or risked injury to those survivors. We were better off remaining in the vicinity.
KING: And what, Scott, is going through your mind while you're there? You see this, the Coast Guard is coming, what?
S. WADDLE: Save those that have made it to life.
KING: Are you also puzzled?
S. WADDLE: I am absolutely dumbfounded, how something like this could happen. It was mind-boggling.
KING: What are we saying to the civilians at this time?
S. WADDLE: Well, immediately when the first bang was felt, and then the second shudder, I told the executive officer to escort our civilian guests down to the wardroom.
One of the civilian guests, who happened to be, I think, last to leave, was quoted when he saw the periscope display, which was a camera repeater from what the officer deck, in that case, I was looking at. He happened to see the vessel actually submerge and sink.
KING: I would -- as I told you, I would happily go back on a submarine. It was one of the great days of my life.
S. WADDLE: And they are.
KING: And watching them do what they do, and these young men have something to be proud of, so it had to be doubly earth-shaking.
S. WADDLE: It was catastrophic.
KING: To all these people, and to all the men on the ship
S. WADDLE: It was.
KING: To a man.
S. WADDLE: To a man.
KING: Why no divers? Did you think of sending divers there?
S. WADDLE: Well, we have qualified divers on board. But you have to understand that they're SCUBA divers, and the purpose for the ship's divers are security swims when we're in ports. Or, say if a ship is -- if the submarine is anchored and the water is shallow enough, we can send them down to release the anchor if it happens to be foul. But they are not rescue swimmers
KING: The Coast Guard recovered 26 people. The Japanese thought you were going away, right?
S. WADDLE: They did, and I can understand why that was the case, because we approached one of the life rafts. It started to list heavily. The submarine was rising and sinking in the water, and it almost flipped over the life raft. So we were more concerned about the safety of them...
KING: Did you know, Commander -- and you stayed there that night, right?
S. WADDLE: We did. We remained overnight using image- intensifier equipment to try to locate any other survivors that may have made it to the surface.
KING: Did you know you were in trouble?
S. WADDLE: I knew I was in trouble the second I heard the bang. You don't -- you don't hit something and not suffer from it, regardless, whether it's a buoy, a vessel...
KING: Does a whole career have to end because of one fateful day?
S. WADDLE: It does.
KING: You agree with that.
S. WADDLE: I agree with that. How can you retain confidence in a captain when an accident of this proportion occurs? Now, had we been raised in an era of Admiral Nimitz -- he had a collision. He survived the collision, went on to a second command and became a very great admiral, during a time war.
KING: One of the great heroes of World War II.
S. WADDLE: Great hero. But you know what? We're not at war. And so when an officer or his crew makes a mistake of this magnitude or proportion, the end state is the same.
KING: So the trial for you was really not a trial. You pled guilty.
S. WADDLE: I did not plead guilty.
KING: Was there plea?
S. WADDLE: There was no plea. However, during the course of admiral's mast...
KING: What is that?
S. WADDLE: It's a form of nonjudicial punishment. It's where a captain, if he's in command of a vessel, or in this case, Admiral Fargo, as a fleet commander, can take a subordinate to mast in the form of nonjudicial punishment -- fine him; if he's enlisted, reduce him in rank; if he's an officer, give him a letter of reprimand, fine as well; house arrest for 30 days if the crime warrants it. But in this case, I think it's very clear that criminal intent was not there. This was a clear case where an accident had occurred.
KING: Why did you so quickly apologize to the Japanese? I mean, you acted so -- I guess, in a society -- in the western society, we think of "pass the buck." Let's try to get out of this. Let's look for the easy way. Don't say you're sorry.
S. WADDLE: I think the Japanese families would take issue with "so quick." If anything, the families were enraged over the fact that it took almost two weeks for me to make a trip to Japanese consulate to deliver letters. However...
KING: That was your idea.
S. WADDLE: That was my idea. On the Sunday following the accident that occurred on Friday, I attempted to approach the families that were on the Hawaiian island and apologize.
But unbeknownst to me, and it was made clear in discussion I had with Admiral Fargo, that had I accompanied Admiral Fargo to make the apology, the perception, perhaps, from act of duty personnel, would be that we offer up our captains. And so I was not granted that opportunity. I did not know that. I know that now, and I understand that decision.
But because I wasn't in a position where I could apologize to the families, and then, as the time passed from the accident, it reached a state where I knew that Admiral Fallon would not be successful in providing his apology to the families in Iwo Jima unless I got the letters there first.
KING: Did you expect to be dishonorably discharged?
S. WADDLE: Well, I'm not dishonorably discharged.
KING: I know, but did you expect to be?
S. WADDLE: I wasn't sure what the outcome could be, and I was fearful for that -- that because of the potential issue of political influence, that I might be made a scapegoat.
KING: Did you hear any -- because, I thought pretty early, it was announced that you would not be that severely handled.
S. WADDLE: I did not know. I was unsure. And of course, when you read the press...
KING: You never know when you're in a...
S. WADDLE: You just don't know. And in this unfortunate case, you find yourself isolated. You're kind of on the wrong side of the fence. An organization that you've been part of for 20 years -- you have a horrible tragic accident like this. You're suddenly almost persona non grata. It was tough.
KING: But Admiral Konetzni stood by you, didn't he?
S. WADDLE: Did indeed.
KING: And he's your mentor.
S. WADDLE: He's my mentor.
KING: Do you feel like you let him down?
S. WADDLE: I did. That -- that was devastating to me.
KING: Did you say that to him?
S. WADDLE: I did indeed. I cried with him.
KING: And he did, too,
S. WADDLE: He did, too.
KING: We'll be right back with Commander Scott Waddle. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADMIRAL THOMAS FARGO, PACIFIC FLEET COMMANDER: Commander Waddle has been stripped of his command and his career effectively terminated. For a naval officer that served for 20 years to his country, I would tell you that this is absolutely devastating. He has paid dearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What did happen to you? You were stripped of command. You get your pension.
S. WADDLE: I do.
KING: You are not discharged.
S. WADDLE: I'm not.
KING: What does it mean, stripped of command? Are you still in the Navy?
S. WADDLE: I am still in the Navy, that's why I'm wearing a uniform and not a coat and tie. But what it allows me to do is, this particular punishment allows me to retire honorably. And I will receive my retirement, which I worked hard for for 20 years.
KING: And that will occur when?
S. WADDLE: The day that I retire. That day has not yet been set.
KING: Who sets it?
S. WADDLE: I request it. And I requested to retire before 1 October, but there are a number of things that have to transpire before that.
S. WADDLE: Well, the request has to be processed through administrative. There's always paperwork.
KING: What do you do until October 1?
S. WADDLE: I'll be employed on the COMSUBPAC staff, working for the now fleet -- or Type Commander Admiral Padgett.
KING: How have your shipmates responded?
S. WADDLE: Favorably. These men are my family...
KING: To a man?
S. WADDLE: To a man. They really are. They have been to my home, they visited me within days of the accident, and realized that there were other responsibilities that crew members and shipmates have, and that was getting the vessel repaired. The damage, although considered minor, was costly, $2 million. This was not a cheap accident.
KING: Is she out to sea now?
S. WADDLE: She's out to sea right now, she is.
KING: Do you know the new commander?
S. WADDLE: I do. He's a close personal friend of mine.
KING: Did you see him go out?
S. WADDLE: I did. I was standing in my front yard, near the time of the underway. And as the vessel passed, the captain sounded a whistle for six seconds, one last goodbye. I was in my whites. A very difficult moment for me, to not be part of that. To see a ship that I commanded...
KING: Is that the picture there?
S. WADDLE: ... go to sea. It is indeed. A very -- very somber moment for me, difficult. My head is down, and I am 75 yards in front of my front door. That is the view looking out from the window. And that is my family come out to see.
KING: They took the picture?
S. WADDLE: No. A photographer that was there took the picture. Excuse me.
KING: The emotions you expressed, the people have come to like this commander. I mean, we don't see this often, but you are so willing -- not only that -- to accept blame. I think we are surprised at someone who readily does this.
S. WADDLE: Well, Bruce Grooms, fellow Navy captain, friend of mine, at his change of command said, his wife told him that if he got emotional during the change of commanded, she would call him a sissy, and that got a chuckle out of us. I'm not a sissy under these circumstances, and when I met with the families, I told them that I apologize for losing my composure in their presence, as a naval officer, but I don't apologize for losing my composure as a compassionate human being who cares for the suffering and grief and pain this has caused.
KING: Was that a tough day for you?
S. WADDLE: Oh, it was horrible.
KING: How did they treat you?
S. WADDLE: On the first visit with the families, a father stood and yelled. He was very, very distressed over the fact that this apology was so late in coming. And I can understand that. Because in the Japanese culture, an apology is something that is done in a prompt manner. We don't understand that fully here in the United States. Many of those who are of Asian descent understand the importance. I knew it because I was raised in that area.
KING: You don't think you killed people, did you?
S. WADDLE: No, I don't. I know that this was a tragic accident. But I know that the actions that my ship took that day resulted in the loss of life of four teenagers, two instructors, three crew members.
KING: You have a daughter.
S. WADDLE: I have a daughter Ashley, 13.
KING: By the way, what was the fishing ship doing out in those waters? It was a training facility...
S. WADDLE: Japanese training vessel.
KING: Can't they train in other waters?
S. WADDLE: They can indeed, but they were heading out to sea. They just had a wonderful port visit in Hawaii, and they were returning back to Japan. This was the end of their cruise. They were going home.
KING: We'll be back with more of Commander Scott Waddle. We'll be taking phone calls for this extraordinary American right after this.
KING: We will be going to your calls right after the next break. During this break, you mentioned two men that you wanted to say something about, Mark Patton and Danny Chang. Who are they?
S. WADDLE: They're two naval officers. Mark Patton had command of the USS Topeka, submariner who was instrumental in helping me during the court of inquiry proceedings. And Danny Chang, another close friend of mine, a Navy commander in Norfolk, Virginia, who contacted me shortly after the accident to offer his support. Two men that were instrumental in helping me get through this event.
KING: When the admiral announced that you are now persona non grata, I guess...
S. WADDLE: He didn't say that.
KING: No, but I mean, in a sense, you are out of the Navy.
S. WADDLE: Right.
KING: Where were you? Were you standing there?
S. WADDLE: I was sitting at a desk across from Admiral Fargo, Admiral Konetzni was to my left. It was a very difficult moment. I knew it was tough for Admiral Fargo, because he is a good man, he is a fair man. And he knew what that tragic accident meant to me, as far as ending a career. It was -- it was tough.
KING: Yet, as a Navy man, and as a graduate of -- you seem to understand this.
S. WADDLE: I do.
KING: You are saying, the Navy did the right thing.
S. WADDLE: They did the right thing. They were absolutely fair. They were indeed. How can you argue with that? And if I were in their position, I would take the same stance. It is just the thing that was difficult, during the court of inquiry proceedings, was to sit and watch my crew and not say anything, because I couldn't say anything.
KING: What do you mean?
S. WADDLE: Until that final day. Certainly as a man that was a main party member, I couldn't just say: "Stop, admiral, don't talk to my crew members like that. Don't say that to them. You can't talk to them like that. You've got a bone to pick with that guy, you talk to me." I wasn't a captain anymore, and I couldn't say that.
I couldn't defend my men, and it was very difficult for me to see the pain that they had to endure in this process, to look at me, to look at my executive officer, Lt. Coen. That was hard.
KING: How did your family handle it?
S. WADDLE: It was tough. Ashley...
KING: Your wife is activist.
S. WADDLE: Well, let me tell what. My wife was my strongest supporter, remains my strongest supporter, and I love her to death. She was the one that we were able to use to communicate our family concerns over this, the grief and the sorrow. She spoke for me when I could not.
KING: How about Ashley?
S. WADDLE: Wonderful kid. You know, she goes to school, Holy Family Catholic School in Hawaii, which is the residence of our current reigning Miss America, and Ashley is a wonderful, wonderful kid.
KING: Did she get any grief at school?
S. WADDLE: Well...
KING: Kids can be rough.
S. WADDLE: Kids can be rough, but you know, it is a good school. Not predominantly military, but a lot of kids are that go to school there. One young boy happened to make a comment. And the kids -- the kids, her friends, came to her defense. The teachers are very protective, as is the principal, Mr. Boquer.
KING: We'll be right back with Commander Scott Waddle, and we'll go to your phone calls on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Vice President Cheney tomorrow night, don't go away.
KING: I noticed all the medals, Commander Waddle, and we are going to go to phone calls in a second, but what's the gold dolphin?.
S. WADDLE: The Gold Submarine Dolphin: This is the warfare pin and insignia that officers wear. These were given to me by Captain Guy O'Neil, who was commanding offer of the Gunnel in World War II. He sank two Japanese destroyer escorts, and a Maru -- a merchant.
KING: Nice gift.
S. WADDLE: It was an honorable gift.
KING: Shreveport, Louisiana, as we go to calls for Commander Scott Waddle, hello.
CALLER: Yes, Commander Waddle, I have complete and full respect for the manner in which you have handled this entire disastrous event, and send blessings to your family. My question to you is: what do you feel your qualifications are for a civilian job?
S. WADDLE: The military prepares officers in this capacity to do a myriad of things. And that perhaps is the greatest gift. We have the opportunity to leave the military and contribute to society in manners that, I think, most corporate executives would desire.
KING: Anything -- particular industry, are you open to...
S. WADDLE: Open to virtually anything that involves personal management, technical issues, non-technical issues, education; several things that we can do.
KING: Still interested in the sky?
S. WADDLE: I am. Maybe I'm a little bit too old to fly, but it is a dream.
KING: You still -- you still like to take control of a plane...
S. WADDLE: There's something about smelling jet exhaust that brings me back to the days when I was a kid living in Japan, and Alconbury, England.
KING: Military brat.
S. WADDLE: I am in deed.
KING: Jasper Alberta, Canada, hello..
CALLER: Hi, Larry. Good Evening, Commander Waddle.
S. WADDLE: Good Evening.
CALLER: My question is: Even though millions of people have forgiven you, and we've moved on, I'm wondering, can you ever forgive yourself, Commander Waddle. S. WADDLE: I cannot, and as I said to the families, this is a burden that I will carry to my grave. This is something that will remain with me the rest of my life.
KING: Your legal counsel advised you to choose words carefully, didn't they?
S. WADDLE: He did during the first two weeks, but I think it was clear when I said that I deeply regret, that regret, did not constitute an apology. And that is why I had to write the letters and deliver them to the Japanese consulate.
KING: Knob Noster, Missouri, hello.
CALLER: Good evening. First of all, Commander, thank you very much for your 20 years of service to our country.
S. WADDLE: You're welcome.
CALLER: The question I have for you, sir, is: Your career is over because of this incident.
S. WADDLE: It is.
CALLER: One of your crewmen failed to provide you, as I understand it, crucial information. Should his career also end?
S. WADDLE: I don't think it is fair. In that case, you know, the definition of "command" is such that accountability is absolute. The buck stops with me. If a mistake was made by a crew member, even if I had been asleep, I would have been responsible. So, no don't punish my crew. The error rests somewhere either in the way that I trained my men, but I'm ultimately responsible and accountable.
KING: In retrospect, is there something you could have done differently?
S. WADDLE: There is something I could have done differently. I could have followed my own CO standing orders, and in that case, not stopped a crucial brief. I thought, at the time, based on information that I knew, that it was appropriate. But you know, in hindsight it wasn't. And I was strongly encouraged, commanding officers, colonels, majors, captains, sergeants, whatever, the tried, true procedures and processes that have been virtually written in blood -- don't deviate from them, even during circumstances where the most basic and elemental evolution is involved, stick to the process. If it is proven, and it works, don't change it.
KING: In other words, the book is correct.
S. WADDLE: The book is correct.
KING: So, go by the book.
S. WADDLE: Go by the book.
KING: Although sometimes, great leaders have to change the book.
S. WADDLE: And they do, but on that day there was no need to make the change. And I so deeply regret that I did what I did at the time. But again, I thought it was safe, but in hindsight it wasn't. If I had held the brief, it would have been clear to both the officer of the deck and myself, that the two contacts we thought we were tracking, one of them was new. We could have done something about it.
KING: Do you like being in Japan?
S. WADDLE: I Love being in Japan.
KING: Like the people?
S. WADDLE: I love the Japanese culture and the people. Good friends.
KING: Would you go there again?
S. WADDLE: I will go again. You know, I need to see the other family members, the prefecture -- that I didn't see while they were in Hawaii. The prefecture of Uwajima, as well as the principal at Uwajima fisheries high school. I still owe them apologies, and I will fulfill my obligation. I made promise, I'll do it.
KING: When you walk up and do it, when you shake hands or hold somebody or hug somebody...
S. WADDLE: And Larry, you don't do that in a Japanese culture. A deep bow.
KING: You don't do that.
S. WADDLE: You don't hug, you don't touch. And when I met Japanese families it was a very private moment. We were all situated in a room where they sat in kind of a "U." I sat off to the side. I was able to give my apology through a translator. Some of the family members became very emotional. I also was able to stand and provide a deep bow, which is customary, and unbeknownst to me, the sign of emotion is the true, sincere demonstration of the apology, but that just came naturally. I was so full of grief, and still am, over the pain this has caused the families.
KING: Have you not been on a submarine since?
S. WADDLE: I have not, no. And more than likely, will not.
S. WADDLE: I won't say "ever." I hope some day that I will be able to visit, but certainly not in the capacity as a captain or a naval officer.
KING: Miss it?
S. WADDLE: Terribly. You -- can't help it. is one of these things in photograph that you saw, that was my front yard. Submarines have to pass that go to sea and come back into port. I see them leave every day. This has been such a part of my life it is difficult to...
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) describe that day? I was a little apprehensive. There's a special feeling under the water.
S. WADDLE: It is.
KING: It -- can't put in words. And the people who serve under the water are special. The dedication. But there is -- I don't know what it is, there is something -- special down there.
S. WADDLE: It is, it is quiet. It can be very calm. It can be very exciting, too, depending upon the water depth that you are in. If it's shallow and the seas are rough, but it is a very stable platform, and it's a wonderful profession. What the men in uniform do -- men and women, I should say -- in our armed service, every day, to protect our freedoms, is something we should not take for granted.
KING: You agree with the admiral: No women in the subs?
S. WADDLE: That not a place for us to go right now. But right now there is, the submarines are not designed to accommodate women, and the issue is privacy.
KING: We will be back with Commander Scott Waddle and more of your phone calls on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: I just realized something: you were born in Japan.
S. WADDLE: Misawa, Japan, Misawa Air Force Base. I was, indeed.
KING: Jacksonville, Florida with Commander Scott Waddle, hello.
CALLER: Good evening, can you hear me all right?
CALLER: Yes, sir, retired Navy captain, 28 years as a fighter pilot, I tend to hold the superiors of you also responsible, Commander. Why were you not in a designated, restricted area, which would have kept you by yourself, and the trawler also, out of your area? I'd like an answer to that, please.
S. WADDLE: Well, Captain, we were in a designated, restricted area. The submarine operating area assigned to us was exclusive. We had the unlimited operation.
However, it is the free rein of the surface vessels to transit through those submarine areas, even though they are known to be training grounds. It's ultimately the responsibility of the submarine to remain clear of surface vessels. That's the rule of the road.
KING: You could have said, the men goofed.
S. WADDLE: I could have.
KING: You could have.
S. WADDLE: I could have. But I didn't and I won't.
S. WADDLE: Oklahoma City, hello.
CALLER: Hello. As a Navy wife, now retired, the daughter of a Navy captain, I first of all want to say that our prayers go out to you and your family. My father always taught me from an early childhood captain takes credit, captain takes the blame.
My question for you is: you stated that you stayed at site through the night. What happened to the civilians that you had on board? Were they transported off? I never heard anything further about that.
S. WADDLE: No, the civilian guests that we had onboard the submarine remained on the ship. There was no way to get them off.
KING: They stayed all night?
S. WADDLE: They stayed on board, the husbands and wives were berthed, and our 21-men berthing, which is in the lower level part.
KING: They slept there?
S. WADDLE: They slept there as well.
KING: Boy, what was that like for them?
S. WADDLE: You have to ask them and interview them.
KING: Did you talk to any of them?
S. WADDLE: I did. We made them as comfortable as possible, but you have to understand that this was as equally stressful for our guests. So, we not only had to accommodate our guests, but we had to operate the ship.
Recognize too, that a third of the crew had remained at the naval facility, and so we were operating at reduced manning. A lot of stressful issues to deal with.
KING: The guests understood?
S. WADDLE: They did.
KING: Nobody said, hey!
S. WADDLE: Not at all. When you asked me earlier in the show, what did I do with the guests? I escorted them to -- not me personally, but I had them escorted there, and shortly thereafter, I asked them please, please remember what happened today.
And when you are asked, tell the truth. Don't embellish, don't make up something that you don't know. If you don't know, say you don't know. But do this for the sake of those who lost their lives today.
KING: Any good come out of this?
S. WADDLE: I think a lot of good came out of this. It has caused us to review some of our procedures and processes in the Navy. But not only that, I would like to think that despite the fact this tragic accident occurred, the importance of personal integrity, honor, character, accountability is paramount, and it has been very clear.
And I hope that that message has come through as well. But if anything, it is also drawn our two cultures a little bit closer, and has identified the importance of the United States military presence in Asia, for not only economic stability, but global stability. In view of this current issue that is happened in China, I think that that's very clear now.
KING: What, Commander, have you heard from every day people?
S. WADDLE: It has been amazing. I would much rather have not gained public notoriety by this method, but people are most grateful and appreciative, for our service. And they thank me on behalf of other citizens, for the contributions that the men and women in uniform are making on a daily basis.
KING: Did you fly commercially to New York?
S. WADDLE: We did.
KING: People know you?
S. WADDLE: 10 people, the chief purser. Sandy, if you happen to be watching tonight, good evening. Her daughter is in Rota, Spain, has been in the Navy for three years.
S. WADDLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
S. WADDLE: She approached me and she said, God bless you and your family.
KING: And you like hearing from people, right?
S. WADDLE: I do. I love people, people are my life, my crew is my life, we had the lowest attrition in the submarine force -- in the Pacific Submarine Force and the highest retention. Why? Because Admiral Konetzni empowered to us to lead our men, to take care of them, to improve the quality of life, and we did just that.
KING: You mentioned you watched the night we did the U-51 (sic) show, where we had the cast and the admiral on. That movie had to be a kick to submariners. S. WADDLE: For submariners, it is, and, the comment that Harvey Keitel makes to Matthew McConaughey in the movie, you know: "don't you ever tell your crew that you don't know, because you are the captain, and you always have to know."
KING: When the Russian thing occurred.
S. WADDLE: The Kursk?
KING: Yeah, did you say, there but for the -- sake, could be me?
S. WADDLE: I did, indeed, and that only that but since the USS Greeneville is specifically certified to carry what's called the deep submergence rescue vehicle, my crew unanimously -- we offered our services to go, to try to help. But time-distance, it wasn't feasible. They were in such great pain. It doesn't matter what country or whose Navy who serve in, submariners -- when a submariner's in peril, we all feel it.
KING: We'll be right back with more of Commander Scott Waddle. Tomorrow night: Vice President Dick Cheney. Don't go away.
KING: What did you make, Commander, of the media frenzy?
S. WADDLE: It was difficult to endure. Because there were so much misinformation, and contributing to that was information that was released by the National Transportation Safety Board in parallel with some of the releases that the Navy was making.
Some were partial statements which became very difficult to respond to, I think, privately, but as well, from the perspective of the Japanese culture. They weren't getting the full sense of the details, so it was hard. The media, I think, reacted to the fact that there was an issue over military presence in Japan. And a number of events had transpired preceding this accident, and not only that, but this tragedy, as it took place within essentially the first month and a half of the Bush administration, taking office, made it difficult.
In addition to the fact the accident occurred at 1:43 on a Friday afternoon in Hawaii. So it is almost, 7:00 p.m. here on East Coast, over a weekend, made it tough.
KING: What was it like for you to be famous for the wrong reason?
S. WADDLE: It is horrible. It is something that no one, I think, would ever want. It is very difficult. But, again, because I know that it is an accident, and because of my faith, the fellowship that I have had with my fellow crew members and the great support we have had from families and friends, and countless others throughout the United States and globally that have supported me....
KING: You like hearing from people, right?
S. WADDLE: I do, indeed.
KING: Ever regret going Navy?
S. WADDLE: Not at all. Not at all.
KING: Despite all this.
S. WADDLE: Not at all. I enjoy it. It has been my life. There isn't a chance when I come across, say, a West Point graduate that I will get in a "go Navy" or "beat Army" somehow. So it is a good thing. There is friendly rivalry there, but I'm proud to have served our nation for 24 years, 4 years at the academy and 20 years as a commissioned officer.
KING: You were mentioning during the break how much alike submariners are and fighter pilots are alike no matter where you are. Right?
S. WADDLE: That's true.
KING: There's a core here. There's almost a -- a league of your own.
S. WADDLE: It is. It's -- I won't call it a club, but there's camaraderie amongst the men that serve in this organization that is very special.
KING: All over the world.
S. WADDLE: All over the world.
KING: So the Russian submariner knows what you're going through.
S. WADDLE: And the Australians. You know, when the men and women that are serving on the Australian crews come to Hawaii for RIMPAC exercises we meet with them. They're family. There's something special in what we do.
KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, in our final moments, we'll ask Commander Waddle's wife, Jill, to join us as well. She's been a part of this right by his side through the whole thing. Don't go away.
KING: True to the core of the Navy, we're joined by Scott Waddle's wife, Jill, who also has a dolphin. Who gave you that?
JILL WADDLE, SCOTT WADDLE'S WIFE: A girlfriend of mine. Her husband is in the Navy, too, and she gave it to me as a gift.
KING: How did you meet Scott?
J. WADDLE: I met him in Farmington, when I was working in Farmington.
KING: In Washington.
J. WADDLE: Yeah, and we met. We started dating. Soon after got married and moved to Italy.
KING: Did you like being a Navy wife?
J. WADDLE: I really didn't know what to expect? Um, but yeah, I do. It was an adventure.
KING: How do you feel about him leaving?
J. WADDLE: I'm all right with that. As long as I'm with him. Doesn't matter what we do.
S. WADDLE: But it's hard.
KING: Where were you when you heard about this incident?
J. WADDLE: I was at home, and...
KING: Who called you first?
J. WADDLE: The commodore. I had a message on the answering machine for me to call him, and he never calls the house. So I knew something was wrong or something was serious.
KING: Did you attend all of the hearings and official...
J. WADDLE: Yes, I did. I went every day.
KING: She's always been that way with you as a couple?
S. WADDLE: She has indeed, very supportive.
KING: How do you feel about how he's reacted to all this?
J. WADDLE: I feel proud how he's handled this, and I'm not -- it's Scott. I mean, I wouldn't expect anything less.
KING: So nothing he has done here has surprised you?
J. WADDLE: Not at all.
KING: The way he would handle this thing?
J. WADDLE: Nothing. This is my husband.
KING: Did you worry about him being out under the water?
J. WADDLE: No.
KING: Just the nature of the job?
J. WADDLE: This was just for the day. I mean, I had no worries at all. It was routine. It was like going to work.
S. WADDLE: As a matter of fact, as the submarine passed the front of the house I called her. Said, come on, honey, come on out and say hi and give us a wave, and she ran out and did just that.
Always there to see when we go off and there when we come back.
KING: Has he always been this emotional?
J. WADDLE: No. I think this has taken a lot out of him.
KING: I bet the day your daughter was born brought something to you.
S. WADDLE: It was. It was indeed.
KING: But this has taken a lot out of you.
J. WADDLE: But it's not something you dwell on, you know.
KING: No. Are you a little worried that there might be other damage after this? You know, I mean, now it's still in the wake of it.
J. WADDLE: Yeah. We've talked about that. We're working on that.
KING: Have you seen a psychologist?
S. WADDLE: I have not, but you know, the -- that doesn't mean that I won't. But...
J. WADDLE: It's me.
KING: Jill is the psychologist.
S. WADDLE: But it's true: We confide in each other and she's been my strongest supporter. But again, as I mentioned earlier, the thing that has allowed me to survive this awful tragedy has been the support of family and friends, but above all else has been my faith.
KING: ... Admiral Konetzni. We want to thank him for his part in helping to get us in touch with Scott and having Scott appear with us here tonight.
S. WADDLE: Thank you.
KING: His first live prime-time appearance.
I'm Larry King in New York, with the Waddles. Stay tuned for CNN TONIGHT and good night.
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