Jerry Albert had his own navy before he enlisted.
Albert began building his first scale model warship when he was 18. In the years that followed, he constructed a fleet of battleships, cruisers, and a destroyer.
Recently, he brought part of that fleet to the Southern End and demonstrated the radio-controlled ships on the pond at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community.
The demonstration and displays were part of a program honoring veterans who live at the retirement community. The program on Tuesday, June 4, included a talk by CEO Robert Hayward, introduction of veterans of America's war and of peacetime service, the playing of taps, and free food.
Then Albert's fleet took to the pond in a demonstration of sea power on a 1:96 scale.
That means the ships are built so an eighth of an inch on the model represents a foot of the full-size vessel. That means the models are large - most are five to six feet long. The biggest, the U.S.S. Missouri, is nine feet four inches long and weighs 120 pounds. It took Albert nearly four years to complete.
Two of his models bookend the navy's losses during World War II. One is of the U.S.S. Arizona, sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The other is the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser sunk during the war's final days.
First to launch last week was the World War II battleship Bismarck. As it circled the pond, the Bismarck was joined by the U.S.S. Philippine Sea, a modern American guided missile cruiser.
His first effort, a 36-inch-long balsa wood model, didn't suit him, Albert said. Dissatisfied, he started looking for ways to build better models.
"I found I could get bigger hulls from a company in California and my ships evolved from there," he said.
He works from plans for the original ships and historic photographs. He can use commercial castings for some of the parts. Others have to be build from raw materials. "I use whatever I can find," he said.
Although more cumbersome to handle, the larger models have a major advantage.
"They're easier to work with if you're going to put motors in them," he said.
The motors, like the rudders, are radio controlled. The batteries in the ships allow them to sail for at least an hour before they have to be recharged.
"You can build bigger ones [than I do], but, when you're finished,' you can't get them out of the house," he said.
After building them for 60 years, Albert isn't ready to surrender his navy.
"I'm working on the Graf Spee [a German World War II battleship] right now," he said. "I like doing it. It gives me a reason to get up out of bed in the morning."
But his lifelong hobby wasn't enough to convince him to join the navy.
"I went into the army," he said of his military career.
The reason was simple.
"I didn't want the navy because I didn't want to be eaten by sharks," Albert said.