Commander Scott Waddle, A Modern-Day David
I was moved to tears when I first read of Scott Waddle, Commander of the USS Greenville, in the April 2001 edition of Time Magazine. In preparation for this article, I was also moved to tears again when I reread the accounts of the accident1 in which the Japanese training vessel Ehime Maru was sunk and nine persons were killed.
From all accounts, Commander Waddle had a distinguished career in the US Navy for 20 years. Comments and statements from men serving with him all point to the fact that he was an outstanding commander. He was a "conscientious, straight-arrow, Boy-Scout-type who did everything for his men and would never hazard the ship."2 Waddle's squadron commander refers to him as "an outstanding mentor and an inspirational leader, performing flawlessly as commanding officer."
But on that fateful Saturday, February 10, 2001, Commander Waddle did give the order that resulted in the death of nine innocent lives: four high school students, two teachers and three crew members.
At the hearing, he boldly testified, "I accept full responsibility and accountability for the action of the crew of the USS Greenville." He further acknowledged, "I am solely responsible for the truly tragic accident." Then he added, "I am truly sorry for the loss of life and the incalculable grief those losses caused the honorable families of those lost at sea."
Commander Waddle did not have to testify. In fact, he was advised by his lawyer to remain silent in view of the fact that the Naval officials refused to grant him immunity. Everything he said could come back to haunt him at a later time if a court martial were to be held. And he knew it. In his interview with CNN, Waddle conceded, "If I say something, I could hang myself."
But say something he did. Why? In his own words, he said, "This court and the families need to hear from me...because it is the right thing to do." His action stunned the court because it was so unusual a move.
Not only did Waddle admit his mistakes, he apologized repeatedly to the families of those who lost their lives with tears streaming down his cheeks. Bowing deeply, he said to members of the surviving families, "I know you probably can't stand to look at me. And I can never ask for your forgiveness nor expect you to forgive me for this tragic accident. But I deeply apologize, and want you to know...that this apology is true."
The deep contrition felt by Waddle is so rare and so refreshing to see. His tearful face reflected his inner feelings. I believe him when he said, "This is a burden that I will bring to my grave." His first words to his wife on his way back from the accident were, OI am sorry.
He could not do anything to undo the accident. But he was willing to do whatever he could to make amends. He admitted his mistake. He apologized to the families. He testified without immunity. To go the third mile, he planned to go to Japan, where he was born, to apologize to the surviving family members and to the principal of the Uwajima Fisheries High School, which owned the Ehime Maru.
According to Time Magazine, at least one person accepted his apology. Kazuo Nakata, father of one of the victims, recounted Waddle's action in court: "He bowed to me, and a tear fell to the floor. In that moment we were two human beings."
Waddle reminded me of King David.
When David was confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan, David immediately confessed, "I have sinned against the Lord." He did not try to blame his sin on something or someone else. He did not blame Bathsheba for taking a bath in public view. Nor did he blame Uriah for refusing to go home and sleep with his wife, thus covering up David's sin. Instead, David was immediate and sincere in his confession
The only other major sin committed by David that is recorded in the Bible is when he ordered an accurate counting of the number of his fighting men to show that he was a king with great power.3
Afterwards David was conscience-stricken and he repented of his sin.4 By way of atonement, David was asked by the Lord to offer sacrifices to the Lord at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
It is amazing that the most holy temple of the Lord was built by Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, on the land that used to be the threshing floor of Araunah. So you can see that both the builder of the temple and the land upon which the temple is built are associated with the only two sins committed by David.
God chose His dwelling place to be closely linked with the mistakes of David because He seemingly wanted to make a statement. He wanted His children to know that He takes a person's repentance seriously.
God is not ashamed to have His presence associated with the two sins of David. When God forgives, He forgives. He does not remember debts that are forgiven.
I don't need to worry whether God will give me a second chance; I only need to worry whether I am man enough to confess my sins and to bear the consequence of my mistakes. When I am willing to do my part, I know God is ready and willing to do His.
I am glad that I am a child of such a God.
- The accident took place on February 10, 2001 about 10 miles off Honolulu. While demonstrating a sudden "emergency main blast blow" to 16 civilians on board, the US nuclear submarine, suddenly surfaced, hit, and sank the Japanese vessel.
- Statement by retired US Navy Captain John Peters.
- 2 Samuel 24:1-4.
- 2 Samuel 24:10.