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Cmdr. Waddle: 'At night, I dream about it'

Cmdr. Scott Waddle was in charge of the nuclear sub that struck and sunk a Japanese fishing boat off Hawaii. Nine people died.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle was in charge of the nuclear sub that struck and sunk a Japanese fishing boat off Hawaii. Nine people died.

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(CNN) -- Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle was in charge of the USS Greeneville nearly two years ago when the nuclear submarine struck a Japanese fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Nine people were killed.

Last month, Waddle went to Japan to face some of the families of the victims and apologized in person. In his new book, "The Right Thing," he takes the Navy and himself to task for the tragic accident. He talked with CNN anchor Paul Zahn about his role in the disaster.

ZAHN: To this day, how much guilt do you still feel about what happened that day?

WADDLE: A tremendous amount. I carry that guilt with me every day. As I mentioned in the book, it's the first thing I think about when I wake up, the last thing I think about when I go to bed, and often at night I dream about it.

ZAHN: And when you think about it and you think about where you assign blame, how much of it was your fault, how much of it was the Navy's fault?

WADDLE: Certainly when you're in command, accountability and responsibility is absolute. It carries with the position that incredible responsibility. So as the captain, I shouldered it all. I wanted to protect my crew and my family, my friends, the ones that were incredibly loyal to me.

ZAHN: When you think back to that day and you think you had visiting dignitaries operating this highly sophisticated submarine, do you think, you know, although there were no rules that precluded that from happening, do you think, "How was it that my judgment was so clouded I allowed that to happen?"

WADDLE: Don't think for a minute that the visitors were not under the direct supervision of qualified operators. They were allowed to sit in the chairs, operate equipment with hands interlocked with my crew members.

At no time where they allowed to operate the equipment exclusively under their own control. They were under the direct supervision of my crew members. The crew of the Greeneville, myself included, while in command, were solely responsible for that accident.

ZAHN: So what went wrong?

WADDLE: A number of things, a tremendous number of things. And in the book I go through in great detail what occurred on that day and offer the reader the unique perspective and insight on what happened on that tragic day, the aftermath, through the court of inquiry and through that horrible process.

ZAHN: I imagine that you must understand that nothing in your book might satisfy some folks out there who say OK, you got off with a formal letter of reprimand, you were allowed to retire at full rank and a pension.

Clearly, some of the parents of the Japanese victims thought you got off very lightly. What did you tell them when you traveled to Japan about how this all was resolved?

WADDLE: When I met with the families, specifically with the Tarata family, they could see that my sense of pain, the hurt, the feeling, the grief that I carry with me today was true and sincere.

And I tried to explain to them, as Admiral Fargo stated in his press conference after my admiral's mast, that the gravest form of punishment that I could have faced would have been to give up my command, a job that I loved so much, that I worked 20 years for to aspire to and to achieve.

And losing that family -- losing 140 men, my crew members, my family -- was truly the greatest form of punishment that I could ever face. But also looking at that, know that I carry the guilt with me every day of the lives of those nine individuals that were lost at sea.

But given that fact, I've been able to atone for that, meet with the families, apologize and do my absolute best to make amends and to move forward and to regain some sense of dignity.

But by telling the truth, by being forthright, by keeping my character intact, I can walk with my head high today and do so.

ZAHN: Although you mentioned the family that did meet with you. Clearly, there were families of victims that did not want to see you face to face. I'm sure they look at this book as sort of making money off a horrible tragedy. What could you possibly tell them that would make them feel any better?

WADDLE: I would hope that the families would have an opportunity to read the book, to get to know me better, to understand me as an individual, understand and know the members of my crew and see that there is a man that is honorable behind this horrible act and understand that each of my actions that I've taken since that incident, following that incident and today, are ... of honor and ... that keep my character in the highest regards.

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