Galveston Daily News
November 2, 1998
Naval veterans fight to save WWII vessel
By Carter Thompson

GALVESTON -- Naval veterans have mustered their forces to help the park board fix the submarine at Seawolf Park.

In the first week of fund-raising efforts, the Cavalla Task Force -- named after the World War II sub -- received about $3,000 in pledges, said Neal Stevens, a history buff involved in the group mostly made up of submarine veterans.

The task force also has offered volunteer labor to work on the submarine wracked by deterioration from sitting in the salt air of Galveston. On Oct. 25, several of the group cleaned the interior of the sub, which during the war sank one of the Japanese aircraft carriers that participated in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

"This is absolutely a good first step on their part," said Raymond Lewis, park board chairman. "We were glad to see them come forward."

There's plenty of work to go around. While no conclusive cost estimate for repairing the submarine has been compiled, park board officials said replacing the concrete deck and crumbling support structure could cost between $125,000 and $1 million.

The park board several years ago had installed piping to reinforce the deck. But with the underside of the deck and the original supports wracked with rust, the board closed off the deck to visitors.

Lou Muller, park board executive director, said the board might seek grants to repair the submarine. If funds are available, the board would like to rip out the concrete deck and rotted wood underneath, replacing it with a product made from plastic and sawdust, he said. Called Trex, the material looks like wood but is immune to bugs and other factors that cause deterioration.

The goal, Muller said, is to hire a curator for two or three years to supervise a major upgrade of the naval display.

The finances are further complicated by budget deficits at Seawolf Park since 1996. The projected operating losses for the park in 1998 were $64,000, said Muller.

Daunting figures like those and the liability of not doing the work prompted the park board of trustees to give thought to closing the submarine, at least temporarily.

News of the possible closing surged through veterans' circles, and was broadcast over the Internet. On Oct. 20, Stevens and John Fredricks, national senior vice commander of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc., implored the park board not to close the sub. Gov. George W. Bush's office also contacted the park board in reference to the uncertainty surrounding the Cavalla.

Trustees invited Stevens and Fredricks to their November meeting to find out what the veterans could bring to any efforts to repair the Cavalla.

"The Cavalla is one of 16 World War II submarines still in existence in the U.S., out of 252," said Ron Smith, commander of the San Jacinto Chapter of the Submarine Veterans of World War II. "It's a memorial to submarine servicemen before, during and after the war.

"I think we can raise $20,000 to $30,000," he said. "That's our objective -- get it refurbished."

The task force on Nov. 10 has planned a rally at Seawolf Park to save the Cavalla. Lewis said he and other trustees would attend.

The keynote speaker will be retired Capt. Zeb Alford, who was the Cavalla's executive officer in the 1950s.

"We look forward to their plan and trying to work with them, but we have to have their help," Lewis said.