The U.S.S. Cavalier APA-37 was Bayfield Class attack transport that served WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. My dad, Robert H. Boxler, proudly served on the Cavalier in 1953-1954. His ship was part of the 15th transport division during the Korean War. He was a medical corpsman. Their tour included Inchon, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and several other ports in Japan. Of his time in the Navy, including his duty at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the only thing he really talks about is "The Cavalier". He belongs to the Cavalier reunion group and I was able to take him to one of the reunions in Washington D.C. a few years back. One fellow shipmate at the reunion actually served with my dad and was one of his shore leave buddies. They had a great time reminiscing and swapping photos. After coming away from that reunion, I had a new appreciation of my dadís love for his ship and his time in the Navy.
His first memories of the ship include hearing over the PA system "Cavalier departing". He left his medical quarters to go on deck only to find the ship still tied up to the dock. He inquired what the "Cavalier departing" was all about and was told that the Captain of the ship was the "Cavalier" and when the captain departed or arrived, the announcement was made. He also learned the hard way about the muzzle blast of a 5"/38. His first live fire drill found him located somewhat down range of the barrel rather than substantially behind the gun. He didnít do that twice.
He can recall not being too fond of shore-leave because it seemed that after any given port time, he would spend the next several days in the medical lab testing the majority of the crew for various diseases, compliments of the local hospitality division. He recalls training exercises with the army infantry when the soldiers would ferry out to the ship in the troop transports, climb the rope ladders to board the ship, cross the deck and go back down the other side to other transports. He starts to laugh when he tells this story and says "We were real bas*#% during those exercises because so many of the soldiers would be seasick, weíd sit in the transports manning our positions and chowing down on all kinds of food just to add to their misery".
He will briefly mention prisoner transport duties, and the non-humorous side of his time on the ship, but that is not really part of the memories he wants to recall. My father did not see battle duty, but I am very aware of his respect and admiration for all those who have.
After the reunion in D.C., I realized I needed to pursue things related to the Cavalier. I thought about a model once, spent some brief time on the internet looking and didnít find one. I had found a professional builder, but the price was extreme (it seemed at the time). So I had just about given up on the model idea. Last November (2001) after countless hours of searching, I stumbled upon the SteelNavy website. I found the message board and figured I didnít have anything to lose. I posted my quest for a Cavalier model to the board and got more than I bargained for. Several modelers explained hull types and what I could use as a base model, along with pros and cons. I began with the Revell model of the USS Burleigh, an attack cargo ship.
I did a lot of research for photos and ship write-ups. http://www.navsource.org/archives/home.html was a great source for photos. I also got actual photos of the Cavalier from Marine Photos and Publishing at http://www.marinephotos.com These helped a great deal as the Burleigh model was only about 50% accurate for my ship. I got blueprints of a similar transport from Floating Drydock as well as some other detail photos of other transports that helped with the LCVP crane construction and other items. I knew the Burleigh had no LCM or LCVP boats, so I pursued getting two Revell models of the attack transport Montrose. I got two because of the quantity of personnel carriers on the Cavalier. I will tell you that I had not touched a model since I was 10 (40 now).
One of the board modelers suggested replacing the molded railing of the kit with PE. At that time I didnít know what PE was. I studied the board messages and modeling tips and got Photo Etch from Gold Medal Models. I noticed on the site that the owner of GMM, Loren Perry, had written a book on how-to for PE. Great book for beginners. After looking at photos in the model gallery, I knew the ship would not look good (realistic) without PE. I ordered the 1/400 US Naval Ship PE set from GMM. Armed with some base models, photos, and PE, I began my build. I was nervous about the amount of scratch building I was facing, but with the incredible variation in plastic pieces available such as rods, sheets, strips, and I-beam, it was really not that bad. Who invented gap filling superglue and accelerator? That is wonderful stuff. (except for my one bad syringe spill all over my hand, but we wonít go there)
I had to heavily modify the navigation bridge deck and wheelhouse deck including cutting out a window style navigation bridge, filling, and putting in porthole viewing. About 40% of the superstructure, from the stack back, was scratch built. The cranes were time consuming but not really hard. I used my little space heater to warm up the I-beam to the point where it would bend, then molded the curve and let it cool. Cut and sand to fit. I pillaged a couple gun turrets and masts from a Montrose kit, which I also modified to achieve the masts and life rafts that I needed. I made the metal rack supports for the fore and aft rafts from PE intended for navigation bridge windows. I replaced all plastic ladders with PE, and added extra ladders where appropriate, and I used PE for all the hatches. My wife had some junk jewelry I used for anchor chains (saw the chains in the galleries and had to try it).
I had ordered some white metal 40mmís and 5"/38ís, because in comparison to the gallery models, the plastic kit guns were a little less desirable. Due to various problems, I did not get the guns in time for my dadís birthday, which was my goal. Fortunately, after a desperate plea for last minute help on the board, a most generous gesture from Jon Warneke of Iron Shipwright bailed me out of crisis and sent me some beautiful resin guns. So the big guns are resin add ons. The 20mmís are a combination of the pedestal from the Burleigh kit with the gun, shield, and wheel from the GMM PE set. GMM also has a decal set for 1/350-400 which I utilized for my hull designations. There was no "P" in the set for the "PA37" I needed, so Loren suggested cutting the leg of the supplied R and filling in the missing shading. It worked fine. The color numbers along the hull for debarking stations I made myself. I got the ink jet waterslip decal paper from Bel Inc. (about $30 for 5 sheets of clear and 5 sheets of white). I used the clear sheet for the aft "CAVALIER" and the white decal sheet for the debark stations. I know what your probably thinking, $30 for a couple of decals, on top of the GMM decals, I must be nuts (cause I know Iím not rich). Well, one of my dadís first comments after checking it out was "You even got the color on the debark stations! Howíd you do that?" Money well spent.
The hull of the Burleigh kit was bit too high for a true waterline, so I took a router to the display board to inset the hull to the correct depth. I must give all credit for the water to the great article by Rusty White, that is in the modeling tips section of the SteelNavy board. I followed his directions to the letter and everyone that sees the model has to comment on the water and just how real it looks, "even the waves".
I think the hardest part of the build for me was the 20mm guns. I needed a third hand. With the help of GMMís PE book, I really had no problems adding the PE and actually had a lot of fun with it. Being patient was the key for me. When I hit a tough spot of scratch building, I would take a break or stop for the night and hit it fresh the next day. I started January 13, 2002 and finished February 24, 2002 with 145 hours in this ship. I could have done more. There are things I would like to change now having been through this. But nothing can replace the look on my dadís face when we revealed the ship to him on his birthday. After several moments of silence and some tears, he immediately began to show us where his medical quarters were.
I will tell you folks that between the auctions to acquire the base models and all the add-ons, plus buying first time supplies like paint, Exactoís and files, I probably dropped almost $500. It would have been worth twice that. It was a fun and exciting project and I could not have accomplished it without the generosity and knowledge that exists on the SteelNavy site and among the model suppliers. I can only offer a heartfelt, Thank You, to everyone that participates on the message board offering tips and education, and a Thank You to the managers and hosts of the site. I wish you all the best. (Editor's Note: Thank You, Rob)
Robert W. Boxler,
Son of the Naval Corpsman