Orange's Orleck finds new home
Last updated 7/5/2022 at 7:49pm
The USS Orleck, a navy destroyer built in Orange at the end of World War II, opened to the public on Friday for the first time at its new home in Jacksonville, Florida, on the Atlantic Coast.
The ship was originally saved from the scrapyard by a preservation group in Orange, but local efforts to make it into a tourist attraction and museum did not work out.
Third Coast News in Jacksonville reported that the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel along with the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association sponsored the first tours. The ship opened on Friday and will continue to be open for tours to hotel guests through July 10.
The Historic Naval Ship Association website said the Orleck is at a temporary mooring by the multi-story hotel. It will be moved to a permanent moor that is under construction nearby at the preservation group's museum.
Efforts to preserve the Orleck in Orange and Lake Charles failed because of a lack of tourists and donations to keep the ship moored and maintained.
Jacksonville is much larger than the the other two cities with a 2020 population at 950,000. In addition, Jacksonville is a major Navy town. The Naval Station Mayport, along with a Navy air station, are there. The Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base is nearby.
The Orleck was built at Consolidated Steel Shipyard in Orange as a part of a contract with the U.S. Navy. The Orleck is a Gearing Class destroyer. It was named after World War II Navy hero Lieutenant Joseph Orleck. His widow was in Orange for the launching on May 12, 1945, after the war had ended in Europe.
The Orleck never made it to full duty before the war with Japan ended three months later. However, the ship spent many weeks patrolling off the coast of Viet Nam during that war from the 1960s into 1970s. The nickname "The Gray Ghost" was given to the ship for its appearance off the Vietnam coast.
In 1982, the Navy sold the decommissioned ship to the Turkish navy.
About 1996, a group of Orange County citizens tracked the Orleck down and began to raise money to save the ship after the Turkish Navy was going to scrap it. Donations large and small were made through the "Save the USS Orleck" campaign.
The effort raised enough money to have the non-working Orleck towed from Turkey all the way up the Sabine River to Orange. A celebration and ceremony complete with Turkish Navy officers was held at Ochiltree-Inman Park along Front Street in August 2000.
Volunteers cleaned and worked to repair the ship. Some former crew members of the ship even traveled to Orange to help with the restoration. However, the Orleck group did not raise the money to build a permanent dock.
The city allowed the Orleck to dock at the Park along the 1980s riverwalk. The city was going to let the non-profit group build the mooring site at the land it owned along Simmons Drive that was to be developed into a park.
In September 2005, Hurricane Rita blew the Orleck and other vessels around in the river, damaging the destroyer. The shipyard company that owned the old Consolidated Steel, later American Bridge, shipyard had the ship towed north on the river to a dock near where Green Avenue once crossed.
Repairs were made and volunteers continued to work on the restoration. However, the city officials did not allow the Orleck to go back to Ochiltree-Inman Park.
The non-profit group searched for a new home and berth for the ship. The Lake Charles City Council agreed to let the Orleck have a home there and the ship was towed and arrived in May 2010. Nine years later, the Lake Charles City Council asked for the ship to be moved or scrapped.
Once again, a site was needed for the Orleck. The Jacksonville Naval Museum agreed to add the ship. The pandemic in 2020 interrupted plans for it to be towed. Hurricane Laura in 2020 blew the Orleck around and caused damage.
The Orleck was eventually towed to a shipyard in Port Arthur for repairs and then towed to Jacksonville. Friday was the first day the ship built in Orange but docked in Florida was open for public tours. And on Monday night, people once more stood on the deck to watch a fireworks show.