Navy veteran Carl Chapple, 84, of Streator, died Wednesday. He served on two landing craft infantry vessels during World War II; he spent his later years building detailed models of the LCI ships, designing them mostly from memory. I interviewed him in November 2007 for the following story, which originally appeared in The Times.
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Carl Chapple’s desire to build wooden models of the Landing Craft Infantry ships he served on during World War II goes back a lot further than the war.
The Streator resident recalls when a visit to the movie theater cost a dime and his parents gave him 10 cents to entertain himself for the night.
“One time I stayed home from the movies and with my 10 cents I went and built a model airplane instead,” Chapple said. “I’ve been building them ever since.”
Chapple, an avid model builder and a key player in creating the Streator R/C Flyers field, started making LCI models about 10 years ago. From the start, he thought big picture and decided a mere model wouldn’t be enough.
“The first one I built was radio-controlled,” Chapple said. “I ran it up and down the creek at Marilla Park to test it out.”
The skeleton of each model is made mostly of plywood and basswood, fashioned in his basement shop and later detailed wherever there’s room in his house. Chapple has had as many as four models in progress at one time. Each is about three feet long.
“They wonder why I make them so long,” Chapple said. “Well, you want to be able to see them coming a block away.”
As he finishes each one, Chapple takes the models to the Streator Family YMCA to join him for a dip in the pool.
“I go to the YMCA and check them all out there,” Chapple said. “We put them in the water to test their seaworthiness.”
Though he has some old photographs of LCI ships, Chapple designs his models mostly from memory. He served on two LCI ships, the 451 LCI and the 1033 LCI, for about three years total during World War II.
Ship details are aplenty, from moving rudders and a floating lifeboat to gun turrets filled with sliver-thin, removable missiles. He even makes tiny American flags to post atop each ship.
“Every time I do this, I try to do it a little different, add something new, make it better,” Chapple said.
Chapple estimates he has made 30 to 35 LCI ship models in the past decade, but admits he lost count of the exact number. He has built models for former shipmates and for officers of the USS LCI Association.
Every year Chapple makes LCI models that are raffled at the USS LCI Association reunion as a fundraiser for the veterans organization. He once did the same for Flanagan High School.
Chapple clearly puts a lot of time into creating his models, but he isn’t sure exactly how long it takes to make each one.
“I don’t know how long it takes. I don’t punch a clock,” Chapple said. “I just do it because I like doing it.”
Chapple said only two original LCI ships are left in existence, in Eureka and Portland, Ore. But thanks to him, there are a lot more smaller versions of the ships still floating.