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  • I got to spend a week at home on leave before reporting to Naval Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, Md. While I was incredibly relieved to finally be free from that ship, I was still filled with fear that they would deny me entry to the school, due to my disciplinary record on the ship. Somehow, being home after the ordeal of the previous 6 months of hell made me realize just how bad it had been. Who was that person that did all that crazy stuff early on? Whoever it was, I never wanted to go back there.

    I now knew exactly what hell actually looked and felt like. I had the scars from the fires of hell on my arms and hands to prove it! I could still taste hell in my mouth and throat, could breathe it in my shortness of breath that had never gone away since the awful fire. While I was physically freed from hell, mentally and emotionally it still had a hold on me. I was home, but it wasn’t the same me. I didn’t know it then, would not fully realize it until last year, 37 years later, that I was then suffering from PTSD. Terrible nightmares would come visit some nights – moments of irrational panic in the middle of the day would just come over me for no reason.

    With all of that, I had a new grim determination at the core of my being, the likes of which I’d never known. I would do whatever I had to do to never go back to hell.

    I was working in the yard when one of my parents’ neighbors, a minister of some sort, introduced himself to me and told me he had been a Navy Chaplain. I told him I was on leave, on my way to Bainbridge. He said he was close friends with the Chaplain on that base. I told him my dilemma – how much I wanted to make it through Nuke School, but was worried I wouldn’t be allowed in because of my 2 Captain’s Masts. He told me to hang in there. I never knew if he had anything to do with what happened at Bainbridge, but have often wandered.

    I got to Bainbridge. The base was perched on the top of a hill, the bottom of which was the strangest little town this side of Gibraltor that you will ever see. Port Deposit. Or, as we dubbed it, Port Decrepit. While the town was several miles long, it was exactly one street wide. The mighty Susquehanna River flowed on one side of the street, sheer cliffs going straight up were on the other. (It would be in a pool hall/bar in this town that I would learn of Nixon resigning that summer. It was in that same bar, that same summer, that I first heard Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, with my favorite line, “Now Watergate Does Not Bother Me, Does Your Conscience Bother You?” Even though it had only been a year and a half since I made my stand against Nixon, that seemed like a lifetime before. But I still savored his departure from the political scene. So long, Tricky Dick. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, you lousy scoundrel!)

    I arrived at Nuclear Power school still terrified that I’d be booted out the first week. We took a series of tests the first couple of days, designed to gauge our knowledge of the basics we’d need to have mastered to be able to get through a 6 month crash course in Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory and Principles. I had no problem with the math tests, but the physics I was clueless on. On Day 4, I was called into the Nuke School Captain’s office. Here it comes, I thought. My checkered past come to bite me in the ass. I was sure I was going to get booted because of my bad record on that ship from hell.

    Instead of going into my disciplinary record, the Captain talked about my test scores. “You did well on the math tests, young man, but physics is even more important here than math. You failed that one. You will never make it through this intensive program without an aptitude for physics. The good news is, we’ll reduce your enlistment to 4 years, and let you go back to a conventional ship!” NO, I thought! This is the worst possible thing that could happen!

    “Sir, I goofed off in high school, and just didn’t pay attention to physics class. I will learn it, and will do well here. If I have to study 6 hours a night, I’ll do it. I want to stay. I want to be a Nuke.” He sat back and studied me, and shook his head, saying, “Damnit son, I’ve been sitting here for the past week listening to sailors come in here begging me to get out of their 6 year commitment and let them go back to a conventional ship. I’ve denied every request. You’re the first goddamned sailor who has begged me to stay here. This is completely against my better judgment, but I like your gumption. You can stay under one condition. You will have to pass the first Physics exam, which is in 3 weeks. I’ve never seen anyone pass that, who failed the entry exam. Son, you not only failed the fucker, you had the worst score I’ve ever seen on it. The goddamned absolute worst. I don’t want to sugarcoat it for you. But I have to give you a shot. Just don’t get your hopes up – it’s a really long shot. The odds suck for you, son. Now, get out of here, sailor! ”

    I poured everything into my studies. You couldn’t take any of the textbooks out of the old wooden building where the classes were conducted. Everything was confidential. At the end of a day full of classes, I’d eat, clean up, then head back over to the classroom to study. I did work 5 hours a night to master everything I never knew about Physics, and all of the other subjects we were learning. I had a single-minded focus. I had no idea whether I was getting it or not. I just kept working at it. I didn’t make friends, and didn’t care to. I was here for one reason, and one reason only. To stay out of hell.

    3 weeks out, we had the first Physics exam. I thought I might have done well enough to pass. It took two long days for them to post the scores on the bulletin board in the hallway outside our classroom. Everyone gathered around the board to see how they did. I started looking at the “Passing” line on the scores, and moved my eyes slowly up from there, hoping against hope that I didn’t fail. Keep it positive. Don’t even look below that line. As my eyes moved up the list of names, I grew more and more apprehensive. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Damnit, I thought I’d passed. Where the hell was my name? I kept moving up the list of names. Wasn’t in the 70’s. Nowhere in the 80’s. 90’s? Yeah, right. Dream on, dude, and pack your bags for Hell. But, I still refused to look below that line. My eyes kept running up the list. 91 – 92 – 93 – 94 – 95. There were two names out of 300 in the class on the 100 line. Mosely….and Bridgeman. I had ACED the goddamned Physics test!

    I made it. I punched my ticket out of hell! For the first 3 months of Nuke School, I would maintain a class ranking in the top 3 the entire time. The next time I passed the Captain in the hallway, he just looked at me, shook his head, and said “I’ll be fuckin’ damned!” All I knew was, I wouldn’t be.
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