Berthed in Seawolf Park, Galveston, Texas, the USS Cavalla is a memorial to the USS Seawolf. Each state has been designated a lost submarine crew to perpetuate. Texas was assigned the USS Seawolf (SS197) which was lost on October 3, 1944 with all hands--83 men and officers including 17 U.S. Army Rangers that were in transit to the Philippines.
Since this website was created in 1996, a lot of changes have taken place for Cavalla and Seawolf park. Below is the original "Cavalla Today" section which contains updates from 1998 through 1999. Cavalla is currently the proud recipient of a lot of care and attention by submarine vets, area residents, and the Park Board. Read below to see how she went from tramp to champ.
Cavalla Recent History
by Neal Stevens
Update January 1998: There is much uncertainty over Cavalla's fate. She has not been maintained very well and is in pretty bad shape. The glass of many gauges have been broken, her superstructure is rusting badly, the interior needs cleaning, and a general restoration is long overdue. The reason for this neglect? Well, no one wants to claim responsibility (now that's a novel concept for these times, eh?). The Texas Chapter of U.S. Submarines Veterans of World War II has an agreement with the City of Galveston to display Cavalla as a war memorial. Galveston has never alloted sufficient funds for this worthy cause and tourism to Seawolf Park has steadily diminished. The local SUBVETS rarely venture over to visit Cavalla and do not inspect her as per the agreement. It's possible Cavalla may be removed from the park entirely. Now you tell me, is this any way to honor the men who risked their lives in the Pacific? The men who brought Cavalla within 1200 yards of the Japanese carrier that assaulted Pearl Harbor, and her alert, lethal destroyer escorts, and put 3 torpedoes in her? How in good conscience can we allow this memorial to the USS Seawolf and the other 51 American submarines and their crews who presently rest alone in the dark, cold Pacific depths to be desecrated?
When you put your trust in honorable men of action, they put their lives on the line to win wars for you. Will Cavalla be the first memorial submarine to be lost to the new enemy: historical apathy?
Update May 1998: I took my wife out to Galveston for Mother's Day. A nice day on the beach, enjoying the sun and safe beaches along the Seawall. We drove around and decided to take a ride on the ferry. As the ferry rounded Pelican Island, we could see Cavalla in Seawolf Park. As we grew closer, it became apparent that something was strikingly different about the old boat. On her starboard side there were huge sections of the superstructure missing. Even from the ferry I could make out the main induction and deck supports. Was this the beginning of the end?
Olga and I drove around to Seawolf Park. Tony, the attendant, informed us that repairs were beginning. The walkway was collapsing and wasn't considered safe for the public. How extensive will the repairs be? He didn't know for sure, but he surmised the sub would be closed to the public for a year or longer.
Monitor this page in the near future; I will show photos of the restoration/repair work and get more details. But if anything sounds like good news, this would be it!
Update May 98 -- From Joe Romero, the Seawolf Park manager: The concrete walkway has failed and that initiated the current repairs. The Parks Board has taken bids to do total restoration of the equipment under the superstructure (induction lines, conduits, supports) and the cost would be out of reach. Mr. Romero is quite correct in saying that it is unnecessary to go for the "total restoration" approach in any case. It would make better sense to remove the corroded components that reside under the superstructure, build in new supports, and fabricate new decking/walkway, and replace the side panels. The Parks Boards has issued a letter to the Navy to obtain permission to that end.
Since funds are limited, any work done should be toward the goal of sustaining Cavalla, not rebuilding her. Galveston has seen an expansion of attractions that compete with the 54-year-old submarine, and visitors have slacked off. Two years ago, a billboard at 51st and Broadway with a picture of a submarine and the logo for Seawolf Park kept Cavalla in the public eye. A new effort will need to be made to raise public awareness that one of America's most decorated ships is just around the corner.
Update June 98 -- Near the end of May, after a few calls to the Galveston Parks Board, I received a call from the Assistant Director, Renee Adame. We discussed the Cavalla and her future. I mentioned the Cavalla website and the crew members I have been in contact with, we discussed restoration plans and funding, plans for increasing tourism, and the addition Cavalla makes to the abundance of Galveston historical treasures (already considerable). Last week, the Executive Director of the Parks Board, Lou Muller, invited me to his office for a meeting. I prepared an overview that highlighted everything I've thought of concerning preservation and raising public awareness. He seems quite determined to reverse the backslide Cavalla has been in. Erin McAffee, Special Projects Coordinator, is investigating possible avenues of funding. They are really looking hard at qualifying for educational and historical funding and grants, and they have a decent amount of money now for some critical restorations, i.e., shoring up the superstructure, replacing the walkway with planking, etc. At this point they're waiting for the go ahead from the Navy to begin work on the walkway and superstructure.
Update Aug 98 -- From Lou Muller, Director GPB: "The USS CAVALLA has been reopened to the public. New entrance and exit ramps have been completed. However, we are still exploring options and costs to make structural repairs to the deck supports before we can allow the public to have access to the deck. We have had a site visit from a professional engineer to request professional guidance. We are attempting to locate any copies of plans from similar class submarines. If we are successful in finding such plans, it will expedite the design phase of the deck. It is anticipated that this restoration may need to be phased in over two to three years because of limited funding available."
"Any help in locating any plans or any ideas for restoration grant funding would be appreciated."
Update Oct 98 -- In a sudden and unexpected reversal, the Galveston Parks Board is ready to abandon the USS Cavalla. The following is taken from Parks Board meeting notes:
Gene Lucas asked whether the World War II vessels (Cavalla and destroyer escort Stewart) should not be removed. "What would it take to get rid of those ships and convert that space to an RV park?"
Lou Muller, director, suggested that a covered pavilion to honor veterans would be more appropriate. "The ships were moneymakers in the past, but no longer attract many visitors."
Consultant Bob Randall said, "From a risk management point of view, I'd say get rid of them."
"Those things ought to be retired," said Joe Jaworski, keenly noting that their popularity was before IMAX theaters and other attractions were available for young people. Randall suggested they be used as artificial reefs for fishing.
From the remarks above, it's clear that the Parks Board has no further use for Cavalla, despite recent assurances that she was going to get a moderate renovation. In twenty-six years, Cavalla never received any upkeep or serious attention. The same paper signs that were hung in 1972 still identify her compartments. Galveston has milked her for all she could give, now in serious disrepair and neglected, she no longer can bring in the cash. As in Galveston's past, anything that doesn't have a dollar sign attached doesn't have a chance. It's ironic that Cavalla was compared with IMAX theaters, renown for stunning recreations of historical events. If the Parks Board has their way, Seawolf Park will become a third-rate trailer park and young people will go to IMAX theater to learn about history instead of having a chance to see it in tangible form, firsthand.
So now a pavilion will stand in the mighty fighter's place. Hey, while they're at it, maybe they can add a Coke machine with a plaque to honor the men and women who gave their lives in the defense of freedom!
Update Oct 98 -- The submarine vets around the nation have risen up in protest. The Parks Board has been deluged with e-mail and faxes. Ron Smith (USS Seal, WWII SUBVET) has called for a march on the city: Nov 10. The Board meets Oct 27 to cast the fate of the USS Cavalla.
Cavalla Update 10/20/1998 Galveston Parks Board Meeting
Big John Fredricks and I attended the Parks Board meeting today at 0830. When the Board got to the Seawolf Park "Amended Budget" item, the director, Mr. Muller, read the preliminary position of the operations committee. He said they recommended the staff at SWP be cut to two employees, the manager and one other; and the concession stand be closed. When he reached the topic of the naval display (Cavalla) I approached the Board and gave 'em my speech. Basically, I rambled on about the importance of the Cavalla, for the community and for history. I addressed the issue of the Parks Board's failure to plow money back into the sub when times were good, as recent as 6 years ago. I also acknowledged the area SUBVETS lack of involvement, and proposed that we all start fresh with the same goal: to improve the condition of the USS Cavalla through a combination of Park and SUBVETs efforts, to help raise public awareness, and to explore funding options. I mentioned the Lexington in Corpus and how popular it is, and touched on getting the Park in the black so it can sustain itself. If I remember correctly, I summarized by dismissing the competition "IMAX theaters and two-passenger bicycles" presented in contrast to a war memorial and an authentic WWII submarine, one that actually sank a capital ship. I asked that the decision to close the display be postponed.
Big John then stood and gave a speech. He asked how many members were veterans; three were, including the eldest, Mr. Lucas. John insisted that the Cavalla was a war memorial, not a display. He said the SUBVETs were very interested in working with the Parks Board in finding a solution that will allow "our children and grandchildren to visit the Cavalla".
Mr. Lucas asked John how many SUBVETS there were. John replied about 70 members in the Texas Area, and 20,000 around the country. Mr. Lucas asked if we could help raise money, suggesting that if we could get $10 donations, that could help get repairs started. Mr. Lewis, Chairman, then said they would like for John and I to return next November and work with two of the members as a committee to outline a framework to begin work on Cavalla.
Okay, here's what I have to say now. It's time to ante up and put our money where our mouth is. Do we want to get involved in trying to save a WWII submarine? Will we continue to write letters every so often to politicians and foundations? Will we chip in a few bucks to present the Parks Board with a "fiscal show of force"? Will guys in the area show up on occasion to scrub, paint, and work?
I think so.
No, it isn't totally easy. $10 might mean hardship for some (me, if my wife finds out!). There will be some time demands us Houston guys aren't used to-8~16 hours a month. This situation requires some sacrifice, some effort, and a lot of loyalty to the cause. But ain't it a damned fine cause! My intentions are to raise some money between now and the Nov meeting to show the Parks Board we mean business. I do NOT intend that we cover the majority of the costs (we can't) but this will allow me to put the spurs to the PB and ensure they allot sufficient funds to maintain continuous progress on Cavalla preservation.
As John will testify, today as we toured the sub and evaluated her needs, my ideas are as cost-efficient as they come. She will never be a Pampanito or Bowfin, but she will be a memorial we can be proud of. I also propose that we make one volunteer day before the meeting, cleaning up one specific compartment. And I'm going to try to get some large, presentational placards made for the after battery compartment that will document Cavalla's history, the sinking of Seawolf, the role submarines played in the war, the role nuke submarines played in the Cold War, and other items of interest to tourists. This will give fathers and mothers something to read while inside, and they'll naturally spread this knowledge to their sons and daughters.
With a donation fund from dedicated submariners, a volunteer day logged, the Cavalla Rally on Nov. 10, and some new placards and improvements for the tourists, I firmly believe we can work with this committee and get that money the Parks Board owes Cavalla.
I will be adding a Pledge webpage to the Cavalla website. Please don't be cynical about this. The power of numbers will contribute to a decent fund for paint and jackhammer rentals. The Pledge page will contain a donation roster and a link to an account page. I intend that the books be open and on-line. I'll get an account set up for volunteers use only (not dinners or gas money).
Most of my ideas for preserving Cavalla are outlined in the Overview section of the Cavalla website.
Cavalla Update 10/23/1998
The Houston Chronicle has published my essay Scrapping the Cavalla like demolishing the Alamo in their editorial section.
Cavalla Update 10/29/1998
Spoke with Renee Adame, the assistant director of the Park Board staff this morning and this is the gist of our conversation.
She sent me a paper with some ideas and strategies for getting Cavalla publicized, restored, and operating in the black. This strategy was handed to me back in June by Muller, so it wasn't anything new to me. It is similar in many respects to my Overview, which you are familiar with. I submitted it to Muller at that time. What was new to me was the origin of these strategy ideas; last year the Board told her something needed to be done, etc. and she got busy and started looking into it.
I asked her about the Nov. 27 PB meeting; she said the Operations Committee reported to the full Board on the Nov. 20 meeting Big John and I attended and the progress report I sent them that morning. She said, "They (the Board members) were very impressed with the speed of action and amount of work and planning the volunteers have accomplished." They were moved by the growing pledges.
The next Park Board meeting of the operations committee is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 0830. I requested that we be slotted into the agenda so we can move forward with the commission consisting of us ( Cavalla Restoration) and them (selected Park Board members). Such a commission would attempt to structure itself to qualify and be available for grants and funding. She said that the Board would like that to be a regular agenda item.
I invited the Board and staff to the Cavalla Rally on the behalf of our group and she said that there definitely would be representatives of the Board and staff there and they were looking forward to it.
Concerning the Field Day Nov. 1, Ms. Adame stressed we should have someone photograph the volunteers in action. She wants to utilize the promotional value of volunteer labor and renewed interest by the submarine vets and enthusiasts.
Later in the day my secretary took a call from Carter Thompson of the Galveston Daily News. We spoke for 15 minutes about the pledge drive, renewed interest by the SUBVETS and Park Board, volunteer work, a push for new state highway signs, and the Cavalla Rally. In an effort to impress him with the scope of the volunteer effort, I told him that Ron Smith had issued the call for a rally; that Gil Raynor was getting placards and bumperstickers made; Dave Stoops was setting up an account for the donations; and John Fredricks was investigating metalwork; Ron Martini was organizing an auction; and Roy Ator and Robin Kirkpatrick were setting up a hospitality suite for out-of-town guests. I believe I mentioned the spirit of cooperation between us and the Park Board and the ultimate need to get Seawolf Park in the black. We agreed a restored Cavalla is a win-win for everyone: the Galveston tourist industry, the veterans, young people, and the general population.
Cavalla Update 11/7/1998 USS Cavalla SS-244 Reunion at King's Bay, GA
Cavalla Rally preparations
I'm back. Had a tremendous time at the King's Bay Naval Base Memorial. So glad to see the emphasis they place on history. What a proud tradition.
I met and talked to hundreds of living legends, including 10 from the Cavalla SS-244. Although they are getting up in years, they all possessed firm handshakes and superb wits. The men I spoke with were friendly, humorous, understanding, and just darned nice guys. It was an event I will remember the rest of my life.
Ken Anderson of Heartland Videos has produced a terrific promo video of the Cavalla project, with narrative and music, and Mr. Gil Raynor mass produced it for distribution to the media. My hat is off to Gil, he's been very, very busy. He FedExed some Save the Cavalla placards to me in KB. They were a big hit. Many folks I spoke to were supportive of our efforts.
The Texas A&M University will provide an armed Honor Guard for the Cavalla Rally. Mr. Jim Flanders is driving some 240 miles to set up the radio broadcast. The Cavalla WWII vets gave me a statement to read, and Mr. Raymond Lewis, chairman of the Park Board will speak along with Mr. Alford and Mr. Ron "Warshot" Smith.
The Galveston Daily News called me Sunday afternoon and they will run an advance on Monday and coverage on Wednesday. Additional coverage was provided in the Nov 4 edition--they published an article with a vintage photo of Cavalla.
Mr. Bob Rogers asked the authors of Blind Man's Bluff to donate 5 signed copies to Ron Martini's Cavalla Auction--a brilliant move, Bob. Thanks! And come Nov 11, one of those copies is MINE!
The Cavalla rehearsal is tomorrow at noon. I'll be going to Galveston to help Jim Flanders set up and then on to pass out placards if it hasn't already been done in my absence. Before I leave, I'm going to get a drink at the Roy & Robin hospitality suite!
Philanthropist George Strake called and said he read my essay in the Chronicle and wants to see that the Cavalla Restoration effort applies for a grant from his foundation. Mr. Strake is the big major benefactor to the restoration. He was very important in Cavalla's history as a memorial.
Cavalla Update 11/10/1998 Save the Cavalla Rally
I believe we had a great rally. It was cool and windy, but everyone coped well. Ron Smith did an outstanding job as emcee. Thanks to the VFW hall for chairs. The rally was covered by the following media: Galveston Daily News (our best friend!), Houston Chronicle, Channel 13 Eyewitness News, Elma Barerra, KGBC Galveston radio station, and several Internet journalists including Myron Howard and Dave Stoops. Ray Stone was in attendance representing the American Submarine Memorial Restoration Foundation. John Fredricks pulled in the Seawolf model. We had plenty of flyers and bumperstickers, thanks to Gil Raynor. Capt. Zeb threw down a good speech. Robin threw out a wreath. John Barnes read off the 52 boats, whose crews paid the ultimate price. Ken Anderson and Jim Flanders captured the moment for global distribution. The TAMUG honor guard was resplendant. There were several members of the Park Board in attendance--thanks! Special thanks to Raymond Lewis for his support.
Did I miss anyone? YES! Ed Koskie, who flew all the way from Minnesota was slated to present a check from his chapter. I didn't catch it. Really sorry, Ed. It was a lost opportunity to publicly thank you and your chapter for being there for us. The only excuse I can offer is somehow I lost track of my agenda.
Jim Doherty, Bob Burrell, George Hemmingway, Richard Bielby, Del Spruage, Harvey McFadden, Jim Johnson, Richard Tatum, Buddi Harlan (VFW State Commander), Carter Colin (Navy League), Les Thompson--and so many more--thanks for your support! I wish I could give everyone proper credit but such a long list.
Glad to be a part of such a great bunch.
Cavalla Update 11/17/1998 Galveston Parks Board Meeting
Today I attended the second Park Board Operations Committee, along with John Fredricks (USSVI) and John Barnes (WWII). The update on the Cavalla Restoration was an agenda item, so we were able to discuss at length the progress we've made and suggest some next steps. The Board was quite receptive, including the young lawyer member, Joseph Jaworski, (about 28~32, I'd guess). He was one of the original proponents to "get rid of those things" (the sub and ship). He said we "turned him around.... this effort to save the Cavalla is like a Jimmy Stewart movie". This is the kind of guy we need on our side.
The Park Board Operations Committee agreed to recommend to the full Board that they develop a marketing plan around Cavalla (brochures, post cards to area schools, etc.). They will set up a tax-exempt account for Cavalla Restoration, with full auditing, for any donations offered directly to them or through their efforts. They will consider raising the admission price and Mr. Muller requested the SUBVETS WWII release their share of the admissions for direct work on Cavalla. Mr. Barnes said he would put it to a vote with the WWII Executive Committee.
I made a formal request that the Park Board staff begin arrangements for new signs to direct tourists to Seawolf Park. I emphasized the signs should definitely include the wording "Home of the WWII Submarine USS CAVALLA SS-244" as well as Seawolf Park.
I showed the Board one of the historical displays to be mounted in the after battery and Renee said she would get a final version to the printers, so as soon as I can put together the other 4 or 5 and install them in the boat, tourists should have some way to learn a little of American history.
Later I met with the SUBVETS Cavalla steering committee. Capt. Zeb (XO in '59 on Cavalla), Ron Smith, and Gil Raynor. We discussed assignments and direction. Zeb is going to get two firm estimates for the costs of rebuilding the deck and superstructure; he doesn't feel comfortable soliciting corporations without really knowing how much it will take. We agreed with Dave Stoops to let him be the focal point for the future field days.
NOV 24 1998
I learned from Renee Adame (Assist. Director Park Board staff) that the Park Board Operations Committee recommended to the full Park Board that the Seawolf Park naval display be reinstated as an ongoing concern. On November 24 the Park Board voted in agreement.
Feb 1999There have been six field days since the Cavalla Volunteers began in November. Concerned Americans as far as Dallas, Washington, and Minnesota have provided valuable support and assistance. Dave Stoops is the Chief of the Boat, and he and Doc Beeghly have been doing a fantastic job, spending many hours organizing volunteer activity and working on the boat, often at times apart from field days. Dave and Doc have made a lot of progress on fixing up berthing space on the Destroyer Escort Stewart, the ship next to Cavalla. Many of the items on the Navy's "Must Fix" list have been corrected, including the broken glass on every lens on the boat. The latest field day numbered 15 volunteers.
Capt. Zeb Alford, former Executive Officer on Cavalla, was asked to lead the volunteer group, with WWII SUBVET Ron Smith as XO and Dave Stoops as COB. The pledge page is close to $10,000, with over $8200 paid. Other groups have offered to volunteer time and work on Cavalla, including the Sea Cadets, Texas A & M University of Galveston, and the SeaBees.
The Cavalla volunteers have received two bids from local marine fabricators. The cost of removing and fabricating the deck, sandblasting and painting Cavalla is estimated at $210,000. Now the volunteers are organizing several endowment committees. They will create a presentation and contact corporations and charitable foundations in the Gulf Coast region of Texas.
Plans are underway for a "deck breaking" ceremony to be held in April. Other developments include a joint meeting chaired by Renee Adame of the Park Board staff that will include Park Board members, Cavalla volunteers, and interested area business people.
News & Updates
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