Step aboard the USS Orleck: She'll be Jacksonville's floating naval museum
After years of planning, Jacksonville will get a floating naval museum aboard the USS Orleck, the famed "Grey Ghost of the Vietnam Coast."
After passing inspections, including ultrasonic testing, the ship was deemed fit for continued service as a museum. Paperwork transferring ownership of the vessel to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association was signed Tuesday, capping off a decade-long saga of trying to bring a naval museum to Jacksonville.
"For the last 12 years we've been an organization with a pier, but without a ship" association President Dan Bean said. "Today with the stroke of the pen, we're going to change that."
The Orleck is set to serve as the new Jacksonville Naval Museum, with its feature exhibit being the "U.S. Navy Cold War Experience," retracing the ship's engagements through the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars.
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.
According to Bean, Jacksonville's status as the third-largest naval installation in the U.S. brings about 25,000 veterans and military family members to the city as tourists each year. A study commissioned by the association suggested that number could be as high as 75,000 with the presence of a dedicated museum and tourist-site.
Bean said the organization has spent over $750,000 in the last two years to get the Orleck, which was previously serving as a museum in Louisiana, into top shape so that it could be transferred.
Over the holidays the ship underwent strenuous testing and inspection in Texas. New plating, restored paint and towing from Port Arthur to Jacksonville will cost an additional million dollars.
According to Bean, the warship will be docked at Pier 4 near the Berkman II Plaza on East Bay Street. It is set to arrive between mid-February and early March.
"When you come across that Main Street Bridge and you see this warship, you're going to know it's a Navy town" Bean said. "We're the greatest Navy town in the state of Florida, and we'll continue to be going forward."