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  • Six months before the Ira Affair/kidnapping, Hank had been in a much different place. There have been a lot of different terms used to describe that particular place he had been in – shell shock, nervous condition, PTSD, despair, hopelessness – all he knew then was, he had somehow escaped the hell and the prison that his first ship had become for him, but he knew he still wasn’t right - he didn’t feel like he was in the clear, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. He was still in top shape, physically, the best he’d ever been in, but that didn’t seem to be of much help to him, just then. There had been so much trouble on that ship, he was certain that it would follow him, and cause him problems once he got to the school, and beyond. He was in a constant state of worry.

    He’d spent a week at home with his parents and little sister, between the ship and the school, which included a visit from his older brother and his beautiful wife, a day trip to the old Atlantic City Boardwalk (pre-Casino days), and a family wedding in Pittsburgh, where he felt barely able to be sociable, but had somehow managed to muddle his way through the family affair, feeling extremely weird and strange the whole time. He kind of felt like an ogre, there. He felt like all his civilian cousins were in on some secret that he no longer had access to. There was a naïve innocense to their lives that he felt he would never know again. He pretty much avoided them, so they wouldn’t be able to figure out just how empty, desperate and spiritually “soiled” he really was.

    He did manage to have a brief chat with his grandmother, the 86 year old holy matriarch of the large clan, whom Hank was certain had a direct line to God. If anyone could help him in his current plight, and intercede with the big guy in the sky on his behalf, maybe she could. He didn’t believe in all of that anymore, but he was willing to hedge his bets, just in case. You never knew what mysteries of the universe might make a difference in how things went. He was open to any help there might be out there for him. He was, indeed, a most desperate man.
  • He’d also managed a chat with the former Navy Chaplain who lived down the street from his parents, and who knew the captain of the school where he was to be attending, next. He’d laid his story out there for the Chaplain, when he’d happened by while Hank was doing some yard work for the old man and asked him how things were going in the Navy. Again, he was not above hedging his bets, with Gods or captains.

    Throughout that week of leave, fear was his constant companion. The fear of getting tossed out on his ear from the school and right back out to a ship in the conventional fleet, to be a grease-ball monkey machinist in an old tin-can’s engineroom, where there seemed to be no rhyme nor reason for how things were run, and one could easily be trapped in an engineroom fire, with no one knowing the difference (like he had been), was palpable. It was like a relentless ticking clock, the inevitability of it, and he could not relax, not for a minute, the whole week leading up to his reporting to this next assignment.

    He was still having that nerve-shattering dream most nights, the one where he was back on that ladder in that engineroom, and the explosion of flames that shot up the ladder upon the opening of the hatch would completely consume he and his mates every time in the dream, except for when the hatch never got opened, and they all fell down off the ladder, choking to death on the black smoke that he could still taste and feel in his lungs when he awoke.

    The odds were pretty high, in his own mind, that his poor discipline record from that ship – he’d been to three Captain’s Masts there, which you only got invited to if you were getting yourself in trouble – would be looked at, and he’d be deemed unfit for the Naval Nuclear Power Program. He was hoping against hope that he would somehow slide through whatever screening they did for incoming Nukes, and he’d be given a fighting chance to make it into that school and program. It was his only way out of hell.
  • Finally, the time came to go, and his parents gave him a ride to the school in Bainbridge, Maryland, about an hour and half drive from their home in southern New Jersey. He felt just the hint of a new strength emerging inside, that he must have picked up from being around his family for that week, that accompanied his inner desire and determination to somehow make this impossible situation work out. He was so mentally shattered he didn’t know how this would work, but he hung onto that shred of hope that seemed to build as they made their way through the winding road, through cornfields and woods that led up to the entrance to the base, which sat at the top of a steep hill, overlooking a huge river down at the bottom, the Susquehanna.

    They were directed by the guard at the gate to a large, modern looking brick structure, the barracks where he would live for as long as he was able to stick it out, here. Most of the other buildings on the base were older, wooden structures, appearing to be leftover from World War II days, which they were.

    Hank sent up a prayer for help, that somehow this place would be where he’d turn it all around.
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