By Mike Biseglia
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene], Wednesday, April 20, 2011
He has an infectious chuckle and an ever-present smile. He might be recognized as the man behind the counter at TNT Subs, but he has a very serious [interest in] subs of a much larger variety ... nuclear submarines.
A Hampton man born and bred, 78-year old Bruce Aquizap has had, and continues to have a truly amazing life.
"I wanted to be a submariner since I was ten years old," said Bruce with a nod. "I used to read everything I could get my hands on about the Navy and submarines. I guess you could say that I was hooked very early here in Hampton while! was still in high school. A teacher here, a reservist in the Navy, took an interest in me. I told him of my aspirations, and he worked up a plan so that I could be a reservist while I was a sophomore. It was a very sweet deal."
"Don't get me wrong, I loved high school," Aquizap said seriously. "Hey, I was chosen MVP of the football team in my senior year, but I felt I had an amazing opportunity to realize my dream. I went for it, and I never looked back."
"In the course of my naval career, I was lucky enough to be assigned to the USS Nautilus. That ship, of course, was the first vessel to cross under the Arctic icecap. For a 24-year old guy from Hampton, that was quite an adventure."
Aquizap said, grinning, "I have to say that before I joined the Navy, I had never been more than one hundred miles away from Hampton. I don't think it occurred to any of us at the time that we were making history. All that we realized was that we were missing the entire baseball season, most of it while traveling under ice!"
"Many of us were real baseball fan, and we did manage to pick up scores and some stats about once a week or so. We developed a kind of game based on how well our favorite players did that week. I guess you could say that we invented the first fantasy baseball league!"
"That mission was highly secretive, but we didn't understand the impact of it until we arrived in England. The folks there just couldn't do enough for us. Then, it was on to New York and a ticker tape parade and the World Series. The crew got to see the Yankees play Kansas City, and we received a standing ovation from everybody there. That included the players! Now that was a very great experience."
"The Navy and the Manufacturers of the subs did some remarkable things for us. Probably most important to us was that our wives were flown to New York from Hawaii. That was truly special."
"My wife, Pat, like most all Navy wives, really don't receive enough credit. A ship's cruise can last a long time, and those wives have to manage everything while the sailors are at sea," Bruce said. "She died three years ago, but I still use her favorite cup. It reads, "Navy Wife: The toughest job in the Navy."
A serviceman for 24 years, Aquizap did something very remarkable. "I managed to go from an enlisted man to an officer. In the sub service, that means trading in my silver dolphin pins for gold ones. I retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant j.g. I guess that is sort of remarkable."
In his den, Aquizap is proud to display his "wall of shame." Actually, it is far from shameful. The wall is adorned with numerous plaques, certificates, letters, and commendations from his rich career. One particular certificate was signed by Rear Admiral Hiram Rickover. It was Rickover who was hailed as "The father of nuclear submarines."
Aquizap was delighted to point out that the feat of the Nautilus was documented in the film "Operation Sunshine" narrated by Edward R. Murrow, and in the book Nautilus 90 North by William Anderson and Clay Blair, Jr.
"The submarine service is not all glory," Aquizap said laughingly. "There is a particular smell that is unique to submariners. It is a combination body odor and fuel oil. When I would come home, my wife would make me drop my laundry on the porch. She also made me wash the pillowcase daily."
"I retired from the Navy while I was stationed in Hawaii. I could very well have stayed there, but I did enjoy the quality of life on the New Hampshire coast. Besides, I still had family there. It was good to come home."
Aquizap may be retired from the sub service, but he's still serving subs.
"Yes, I am delighted to help my daughter, Tori. The TNT is really her place, but she still counts on me to whip up a batch of special chili."
When asked what makes his chili so wonderful, Aquizap smiled wryly. "Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Truth be told, the chili I ate as a kid is nothing like what I make today. In my travels, I learned to make the foods I came to enjoy. This might be considered Navy chili with a heavy Mexican accent. I started making it when I came home on leave. My family loved it. Then, they started sharing it with the neighbors. Now, I make up about twenty gallons weekly for the shop. I guess it's kind of a hit."
Making chili is not the only thing that keeps Aquizap busy these days. "You might say my plate is still full," Bruce chuckled. "I'm a Pease greeter. I've been doing meeting the troops coming home from action for about two years now. It's a very rewarding experience, and I get rewarded each and every time I'm there."
"I'm very involved in my grandson's life, "Aquizap said. "Samuel is ten now, and I cherish my time with him."
"I also speak for groups and at school functions. Some of my main topics center on the need to obtain an education and the importance of teamwork to become a success. Now, this is something I really know."
Aquizap managed to obtain both a bachelor's and master's degree from UNH while in the service. He managed to achieve the distinction of being Class Marshall for having the highest class grade point average, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student.
Following his time in the Navy, he taught at Pinkerton Academy for seven years. Later, he taught nuclear safety at the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant. "I suppose education has been involved in all facets of my life. In everything I've done, I've either been learning, teaching, or both."
Aquizap truly is a scholar, a history maker, and a gentleman of Hampton . . . just don't ask him the secret of his famous chili!