Jacksonville Naval Museum dreams may finally come true with the arrival of USS Orleck

The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association (JHNSA) has been trying to secure a warship to be the centrepiece of the city’s huge downtown waterfront regeneration programme, and the first warship museum in Florida, for almost 12 years.

By 2018 they had settled on the former cold-war guided-missile destroyer, USS Charles F. Adams, which was lying de-commissioned in storage in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. However, in December 2018 the U.S. Navy turned them down.

Their hopes were raised again a few months month later when the Orleck Museum on Lake Charles, Louisiana, offered them their ship, the Vietnam war era destroyer, USS Orleck.

USS Orleck is a Gearing Class destroyer named after Navy Lieutenant Joseph Orleck, Commanding Officer of USS Nauset, who was killed in action on 9 September, 1943 during World War II and posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. She was built in Orange, Texas, and launched in May 1945. She served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War, and became the most decorated post-World War II ship ever built, with 18 battle stars awarded to her and numerous citations. She was recognised as the “Top Gun” for her shore bombardment actions off the coast of Vietnam, where she fired over 11,000 rounds and became known as the “Grey Ghost of the Vietnam Coast”.

After the Orleck’s US Naval service, she was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed the Yüctepe (D 345). She continued to serve in the Turkish Navy until August 2000 when she was transferred back to the United States to become a museum ship in her birthplace; Orange, Texas. Five years later she was badly damaged by Hurricane Rita, but after she was repaired, the City of Orange refused to allow her to return and the Orleck Foundation moved her to the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Since the offer in 2019 to move the Orleck to Jacksonville, COVID-19 slowed the whole process down, and then in October last year Hurricane Laura intervened. Orleck broke free from her moorings and ended up a mile down river with a bunch of other boats & ships.

an artist's drawing of the Jacksonville Naval Museum ticketing & entrance building with USS Orleck behind.
Conceptual artwork of the Jacksonville Naval Museum by Chris Flagg

Jacksonville is still keen to have her and last month the city council voted unanimously to go ahead with the plan, which is..

At the beginning of November, the Orleck will be dry docked at Port Arthur, Texas, for an inspection of her hull to ensure it is capable of the transit to Florida and continue to serve as a museum ship. Should the hull be found beyond the JHNSA financial means for restoration, the decision will then be made to scrap the ship by the Orleck Association with concurrence of the JHNSA. If found fit for continued use as a museum ship, the Orleck will receive hull repairs and mostly preservation (painting) work while in dry dock. The time of dry docking is expected to take three to six weeks depending on the amount of work required. After dry docking, the Orleck will embark on a 10-day tow from Texas to Florida. The arrival date would be dependent on work in the dry dock and weather, but the Orleck could be in Jacksonville before the end of the year.

Jacksonville’s hopes of eventually having a ship museum may be realised, or dashed once again, on the outcome of that hull inspection. Fingers crossed!

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