My father served in the Navy from 1964 - 1968 aboard an aircraft carrier. Growing up I got to hear stories of his adventures (some I could tell by heart now). I was always fascinated by his photos of the ship he was on (Bon Homme Richard CVA-31), the planes, helicopters, and various ports around the world. He is very proud of his time in the Navy, and of course we are very proud of him and thankful for his service to our country. During the early part of his service, my mom had bought him a model of the Bon Homme Richard made by Revell when she visited him in San Diego. No doubt he appreciated it very much. At some point after, he started to put it together, but then lost interest. To my knowledge, he’s never been into building models at all, and the sheer amount of pieces and complexity proved a bit overwhelming to him. Many years later my brother and I found it, and with my dads permission, decided to finish it. We did an absolutely horrible job. We didn’t know what we were doing, used way too much glue, never painted it, even broke some pieces in the process. We played with it a lot, then it got put away somewhere. We were young kids and didn’t realize the significance (as my brother would later put it). It’s a good thing my dad wasn’t into scale modeling, or he might have been a bit upset at how we treated it. Sadly, that model has been lost to time and long forgotten. My brother barely remembers putting it together with me. Even I had forgotten about it for a long time.
At some point in my teens, I developed a love for building scale models. I built muscle/sports cars, and space/sci-fi stuff - but what really fueled this hobby for me was military planes. I built F-16’s, F-18’s, F-4’s, and my top favorite, the F-14 Tomcat. For a while during my school years, I entertained the notion of joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot. I was even a member of the Civil Air Patrol (auxiliary of the Air Force). We met weekly, had uniforms, learned about all things military, and even performed marching drills. We did security duty for events like when the Blue Angels would come to town - which meant I got to go to a lot of cool air shows free. During this period of my life I learned about how to paint models (which I absolutely loved, because it felt like making art), and now took a lot greater care putting them together. Many of these survived, and were given to my young son. Ironically, he and his sisters treated them with about the same respect my brother and I had for my dad’s carrier model all those years ago.
When I Grow Up I Want To Be a…
As high school became more about thinking towards the future, my dreams of being a military fighter pilot were gradually replaced. Art and design surged into the front position and became my main focus instead. As life began to speed up in intensity, I had little time for building models and I stopped doing it altogether for many years. After high School I attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. My schedule got pretty busy holding down various jobs to help pay for college and taking full class loads. It was also during this time I met the most wonderful woman in all the world, who by some miracle agreed to be my wife. Talk about a dream come true! I could go on an on about that, but I’ll get back to the story. ;)
Fast Forward to Today:
Currently, I’m an art director at an ad agency. My wife and I have a son (10) and 2 daughters (7 and 4). Things are every bit as hectic - more so each year in fact, as those of you with children can attest to. But I have come to realize the need (for me personally) to allow for some hobbies in order to de-stress, unwind, and to just generally be a better human. The cool part is, every now and then those hobbies will be of interest to my kids too, and I get to pass the torch to the next generation. Case in point, my love of building models has come back with a vengeance in recent years. Mostly sci-fi stuff these days - particularly Star Wars, from figures to ships (I have built several of the Millennium Falcon alone). My son has taken a great interest in this hobby of mine (although his interest is fueld by his love of history), and oftentimes either helps me work on them, or sits next to me fascinated at the process. It’s been a great bonding experience for us.
Getting To The Point:
Through a recent mix of both related and unrelated circumstances, I had a flashback to that time my brother and I half-heartedly attempted to put together my dads model aircraft carrier. I lamented the fact that it was long gone. I’d sure love to have another crack at it, for nostalgia sake. Then it hit me. Why not build it again! I could do it right this time, with everything I’ve learned about scale modeling over the years. I could do in honor of my dad's time in the Navy, showing it to him when it’s done - and share the whole experience with my son! From that moment on, I was obsessed with the idea. I immediately set off to search the internet in hopes an unopened version of that vintage model would somehow be available. Unfortunately my hours of searching turned up empty. That particular model has long been discontinued.
Disappointed but still hopeful, I switched gears to plan B. Maybe I could find a similar model that I could modify to meet my needs. I began researching the carrier he was on, grabbing photos, Naval archive info, video footage, everything I could get my hands on about the Bon Homme Richard CVA-31. I even found a YouTube video online from a man that served on the same ship the exact same timeframe my dad did. He had converted old 8mm film reels to post on YouTube. What a joy it was to sit there and watch, imagining what life was like for my dad back then, before I was even born! This video proved invaluable later on when I was researching exactly what aircraft would have been on the carrier at the time my dad served (I wanted to be sure to get that right).
Revell to the Rescue:
From that list of 3, 1 of them proved to be exactly what I needed. I started searching for any Essex class carrier models I could find online again, and to my surprise, I found a few. However, one stood above the rest. Revell (the brand of my dads old model) had recently re-released a vintage model of The Oriskany CVA-34 with updated packaging. But in terms of parts, It was a reproduction of the same original essex class carrier line as the one my dad had all those years ago - almost an exact match in detail, even in scale, just different decals and a different carrier painting on the box. With my background in graphic design, I knew it would just be a matter of making my own decals, and painting it correctly to match the Bon Homme Richard instead. I ordered one instantly and anxiously awaited it’s arrival.
When the package arrived I couldn’t wait to open it and get started. It was everything I was hoping it would be. It instantly brought back memories of trying to put that original one together with my brother and brought a smile to my face. I settled it in my heart I would take my time on this one - do it the justice it deserves. My son was nearly as excited as I was when I told him it had arrived. We set off to building it as soon as we got the chance. His favorite job was finding little parts for me (with the ridiculously small numbers) as the instructions call for them. He then liked to see how everything would fit together to form the big picture. Most of the time he was content to sit next to me and watch as I put together the delicate stuff and painted - asking questions, soaking it all in. Each morning he inspected the model to see what progress I’d made. (See the next post, Part 2 for a run through of my building process).
Putting in many late hours, I managed to get the model nearly finished (with the exception of the final detail work) by Christmas Day. That had been my goal all along, as my father was coming over that day and I was eager to finally show it to him. Seeing his face when I revealed it made all the effort and hard work totally worth it 10 times over. He began describing some detail and memories on board the Bon Homme Richard and I got great joy as he referenced spots he’d been on the actual carrier by pointing to areas on the model. I felt such a deep sense of satisfaction and pride that he gave it his thumbs up for accuracy and faithfulness to the original. Although he did note one of the planes he remembered that wasn’t represented on the model (not as a form of criticism, but rather through a story he shared). It was the Grumman E-1B Tracer (VAW-111), or as they affectionately called it, the “Willy Fudd”. That plane exponentially increased a carrier’s radar range and capabilities. After his story and a bit of research, I’m happy to report that aircraft is now represented on the model too.