I am sorry that it took a so-called "international crisis" of which you were the centerpiece to finally inspire me to get this onto paper.
I meant to thank you so much sooner. And unfortunately, I am reduced to writing you this way. The maelstrom that has surrounded you of late has prevented me from using any conventional means of contact, as you have most certainly disabled the same for the safety of you and your family. I would have done the same.
I am quite certain that comparatively few people in this world know you as I do, even though you were only briefly a part of my life. Amongst many other things, you remain evidence to me that, often times, very small acts of kindness and selflessness can have extraordinary effects on people and their lives.
Although, it was dealt with dismissively in the background reporting which accompanied your story, and only even in passing on your law firm's website, I know you only from your time at the United States Naval Academy, in late 1994. I didn't know, and couldn't have known, then, but over the course of a few weeks, you changed my life - for the better : perhaps as much as any one person in my life that isn't immediate family. I don't remember why or how you left Navy, and it doesn't matter because my measure of presence at a place is, simply, whether or not anyone remembers you were there after you go. Rest assured, Andrew, you were there.
I won't get into a tremendous amount of detail because I recognize that the intricacies of anecdotes matter mostly to those involved, and their value to others can often be distilled (if any effort is put into it) to a few points. But for the sake of providing at least a modicum of context, and to remind you, lest you've forgotten, I will recall those few weeks you spent with me, nearly a dozen years ago, now:
After successfully completing my first year at the Academy, I was a lot of things, but neither "big" nor "strong" was on the list - and boy didn't I let everyone know it. At 5'9" and just over 135 pounds, I was more "famine victim" than "military warrior" - but like most small things that learned how to survive, I was fast and agile... and made a lot of noise to distract predators.
In short, I was quickly annoying. To be honest, I'm not quite sure how we first came into contact, but I do remember you growing rapidly weary of my endless complaining about being small - and as you've always been known known to do, you offered solution rather than sympathy. I already had an idea of how to address my problem, and your simple country logic provided a simple and similar plan ("get the weight room, stupid", as I recall), but I was missing both know-how and motivation, and you offered to provide both. And I would need them, because, a military academy's main weight room is exactly as intimidating as you would imagine it would be for the strength-training novice, especially for someone whose weightlifting knowledge consisted solely of knowing that they couldn't lift much.
You were a kid, just the same as me. But you were patient as an instructor, and persistent as a coach, in advance of your years. I searched almost constantly during our trips to the weight room, for excuses and cop outs, and spent a great deal of time close to tears and uttering "I can't"s in a cracking voice. You disallowed my weakness, and refused, although it could not have been any easier, to ridicule me, even in jest. I remember most vividly of all, you forcing me to do push-ups each time I said something bad about myself. It's a lesson I, unfortunately, have to relearn from time to time, but am grateful for nonetheless.
In a strange coincidence, my friend, we both ended up as lawyers. It's no surprise to me that you found a way to continue to help people. You'll be glad to know that I put your lessons to much good use. After you were gone from the Academy, I continued in that weight room, just as you had taught me. After graduation, and during submarine training, I became more serious - and ultimately, my outer strength caught up with my inner. What you may find even more startling that I've taken up as a sport, the throwing of spry young ladies up over my head and catching them on one outstretched hand - which when we first met, was as far off for me as the moon itself. And while I'm sure cheerleading isn't quite what you had in mind for me - I still think you'd be happy to see it. It might even bring you a smile in these trying times.
I could go on and on about the state of modern media, and the railroad job that you got when the whole thing went down. I could try to explain for the uninitiated masses how the federal government interacts with its former employees, and how the letters you received, which were painted as strict directives, would appear the to trained eye as nothing more important than a recommendation not to drive over the speed limit. But that's commentary which I trust is wholly unnecessary to anyone whose opinion really matters. I remember the surprise at seeing you after so many years, and the horror of watching their portrayal of you. I have also observed the almost unmentioned subsequent corrections and backtracking, and can only be grateful that you're in better health, and have been left alone to go on with your new, beautiful bride and successful law practice.
I've tried to come up with a reason for why you did what you did back then, and I can't. We weren't company-mates, and I had little, if anything, to offer you in return. It remains one of the most selfless things anyone has ever done for me. I learned as much from you in that Hall as I did from anyone, and I am forever grateful. You changed my life, and made me, in part, the man I am today. I'll never be able to thank you enough. I hope, in some small part, that my story can help people to know you as I did, and give voice to the countless others who feel the same. I hope that, in the end, you will not be judged by the millions that knew you for a moment, but rather by the few you have touched forever.
I don't know why you left the Yard, Andrew, and I don't care. But when I go back this fall, for my ten year reunion, I'm going to put a small note behind the little plaque in Chauvenet Hall that has my name on it, with your name. I don't know how long it will stay there, but we'll both know it's there. It will help me to remember, at the site of my proudest accomplishment, that behind me, there were great people who lifted me to those heights, who asked nothing in return, and whose help should never, ever be forgotten.
Fair winds and following seas, shipmate.