Galveston Daily News
October 14, 1998
The Battle For Seawolf

Ex-submariners fight for naval display

By Carter Thompson
The Daily News

Published October 14, 1998 12:10 AM CDT

GALVESTON -- During World War II, Ron Smith depended on stealth as he rode in the belly of a patrolling submarine. But today, the president of the San Jacinto chapter of U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II says the group is frustrated over a silent-running park board of trustees.

Heads of the veterans group say they've heard nothing about the future of the World War II-era boats it contracts with the park board to display at Seawolf Park.

In September, trustees mentioned temporarily closing the displays as one option for dealing with the park's history of operating at a deficit and damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Frances.

The veterans say the last they heard, the board was considering a consultant's recommendation to pump $1.5 million into the park, including long-overdue repairs to the naval displays.

Park board members say something must be done to bring the park back into the black. Last year, the board lost $58,000 on the park, and losses are expected to mount this year.

"We have to come up with some kind of way to make those things profitable," said Raymond Lewis Jr., chairman of the park board. "If we do in fact make a large-scale investment restoring those things, they will have to pay for themselves."

Smith said other cities have profited with submarine exhibits. He said the veterans' group's records show the naval exhibit had brought $1 million to the park board during its 27-year tenure at the park.

"There are very few World War II submarines left, somewhere around 10 to 12 around the United States, and they're doing real well for the entities which exhibit and maintain them - San Francisco, Pearl Harbor and Mobile," he said.

But maintenance of the exhibit has been ignored, Smith said, as evidenced by the submarine's crumbling superstructure.

The poor condition of the USS Cavalla forced the group to conduct annual memorial services in April on the submarine's good side - across the street from the display.

"We made a deal with the park board, and they agreed to display it, and all they've done is let it go downhill," he said. "They haven't maintained it, and they haven't advertised it."

Lewis said the future of Seawolf Park would be an issue at coming meetings of the park board and its operations committee.

"I can understand some of the veterans being concerned," Lewis said. "I was in the military myself, and my father was in World War II, and I understand how passionate people can be about these things.

"If the veterans have some ideas on how to do this, I welcome them to our next meeting to tell us how to proceed," he said.

The ex-submariners say they will be there in force and that they plan to march through Galveston on Nov. 10 to bring attention to the naval exhibit.

"This is not a tourist attraction," Smith said. "It's a memorial to 3,700 submariners who died in World War II."