USS Orleck inspections called 'encouraging'
The long journey to bring the USS Orleck to the Jacksonville riverfront as a floating naval museum is moving forward.
Initial inspections of the highly decorated Navy vessel are "looking encouraging," the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association said Thursday.
More inspections and work are needed, but the association — part owner of the proposed Jacksonville Naval Museum — hopes the ship can be readied for the 10- to 12-day tow to Jacksonville in late January.
In Jacksonville, the Orleck would be moored adjacent to the Berkman Marina along East Bay Street in the old Shipyards area. The Jacksonville Naval Museum would feature the “U.S. Navy Cold War Experience,” represented by the Orleck's service in the Korean War, Vietnam War and Cold War periods.
The museum also would serve as a gathering place for naval associations, crew reunions and military conventions while supporting veterans as a local resource and networking center, the association says. Future initiatives could include a tall ships festival or Navy Fleet Week, increasing tourism to downtown Jacksonville.
"We named it the ‘Jacksonville’ Naval Museum because it really is about our community coming together to celebrate our rich military history, inspire patriotism, and honor our veterans and active-duty service members," the association said in a news release. "With Jacksonville’s large naval community, we feel the Orleck is a fitting tribute and terrific match to call Jacksonville home."
The Orleck, a World War II era Gearing Class destroyer, is the most decorated post-World War II ship ever built and was awarded 18 battle stars, according to the museum association.
After the Orleck’s U.S. naval service, the ship was transferred to the Turkish Navy until being transferred back to the United States in August 2000 to become a museum ship.
The Orleck was towed to dry dock in Port Arthur, Texas, this month after more than a decade in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where it survived Hurricane Laura last year.
The dry docking is a critical step in verifying that the ship is sound to serve as a museum ship in Jacksonville, the association says. While in dry dock, the Orleck will receive hull strengthening and preservation, including cleaning of the hull and painting of the ship's exterior from top to bottom.
Once the work is done, the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association would take over ownership of the Orleck. If the restoration costs are beyond the association's means, the ship could be salvaged for scrap.
The association estimates the cost of the project at $1.8 million — including $250,000 in repairs from Hurricane Laura — plus $65,000 for paint. Since January 2020, the association says it has spent $417,000 on the Orleck for inspections, ship insurance, towing down payment and other needs.
An out-of-state Navy veteran donated $100,000 toward the cause in October, and a local Navy veterans donated another $100,000 this month, the association says. Donations can be made at the association's website.