Houston Chronicle
November 18, 1998

Group works to restore deteriorating submarine

ThisWeek Correspondent

The Cavalla, a rusting tribute to World War II and Cold War veterans, was hailed as a glorious workhorse for the Navy during the height of conventional warfare. Its several honors include the Presidential Unit Citation, which was given after the crew of the submarine sank one of the Japanese vessels that was used during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

To raise commitments to the restoration project, members and fans of the fledging vessel staged a memorial service and rally last week to honor Naval veterans who served on the Cavalla and other submarines during previous wars.

During the ceremony, Raymond Lewis of the Galveston Parks Board shied from offering board funds to jump start the project, but did cast a ray of hope towards the group's $125,000 goal when he mentioned a conversation he had with District 23 State Rep. Patricia Gray.

"I will assure you that the Parks Boards is also concerned about what happens here with the Cavalla, but due to our budget constraints, we're gonna need a little help here," he said. "But I think the show of what is going on here today, is a sign that the help has arrived. The executive director of the parks board and I had breakfast this morning with Patti Gray and she wanted you to know that she thinks she has identified some grant funds that might be available to help us out with this endeavor."

Neal Stevens, who is organizing the Save the Cavalla effort, began soliciting donations Oct. 21 on the Cavalla web site. He said he knows the effort is a daunting one, especially when the Galveston Parks Board is scrutinizing the maintenance costs of Seawolf Park. To spark interest, he presented a petition from 15 members of the Cavalla that challenges the Parks Board to restore the vessel and leave it docked at Seawolf Park.

Stevens said that money is needed to repair the deck and pressure hull of the 310-foot vessel. Further efforts include the startup of an educational campaign that not only includes general reading material about the vessel, but also tour guide information to spur respect for the historical significance of war vessels and the citizens who served on them.

"I've interviewed some of the original vets and the ones in the Cold War," he said. "I want to transfer all of that material to this place so when people come, they learn something. They don't just walk through it and say, `My, that's some awfully tight quarters.'

"When a father and comes out here with his sons and daughters, they see a big old submarine. They want to go through it and see what's in it. Well, then the father will begin reading the material and he will, out his own pride, begin to explain it and the kids learn something."

The keynote speaker was a former captain of the vessel. Capt. Zeb Alford spearheaded the crew of the Cavalla during the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He said that while the vessel is an antique in the war industry, it is a significant reminder of the technological advancements made by the Navy in its efforts to protect the nation's welfare."The Cavalla has two histories," he said. "It was successful in World War II. It was one of the most successful submarines in the latter part of the war. She did a good job in World War II but she did an even better job in the Cold War."

He said the submarine was instrumental in monitoring the seas to determine what types of weapons, equipment and vessels the Russian troops were using.

He said the vessel was upgraded during its commissions to the latest warfare surveillance equipment of the time.

During the Cold War when the Navy redirected its mission to monitoring the movements of Russian war vessels and troops, the equipment on the Cavalla was revamped to include a radar detection system that was hailed as state-of-the- art at the time. Portions of that system can still be seen on the submarine.

"The Cavalla has to do with the Cold War and that career was just as important as the first career," he said. "If you look on this submarine, it has a bulbous bough. That was part of the change, because in that bough is long array of sonars and listening devices that let this vessel listen.

"Anyhow, we needed to figure out what kind of submarines we needed to build to fight Russian submarines and what kind of tactics, torpedoes."

Alford also discussed the future of the war industry and said that while most of the industry and public are focusing on space age technology to protect American society, the threat of conventional warfare still exists, which continues to make submarines vital to the national security.

"The submarine is the capital ship," he said. "If we ever had another war where we shoot and if you're powerful enough you never do. And that's the challenge as I see it that we never have to fight. But if we do fight, it will be the submarines that will control the seas because they have that power now."

The ceremony was highlighted with the tolling of the bell for the crew of decommissioned submarines that were used during the Navy's war efforts.

Following the event, guests were invited to a reception at Gaido's Restaurant to discuss further restoration efforts.