The USS Orleck. Courtesy of MuseumShips.org
The USS Orleck is one of 98 Gearing class destroyers built at nine shipyards across the country for the U.S. Navy during World War II. The ship was built by the Consolidated Steel Corporation in Orange, Texas and stood at 390 feet and six inches. It launched on May 12, 1945. It was named after U.S. Navy officer Lieutenant Joseph Orleck, the commanding officer of the USS Nauset, who was killed in action when his ship was hit by German aircraft in the Gulf of Salerno on September 9, 1943.
Known as “The Gray Ghost”, the USS Orleck has a long and impressive history. Between 1946 and 1949, it operated in the western Pacific with Task Force 77 off China and Japan and participated in atomic tests off Alaska. During the Korean War, it performed carrier escort duties, blockade and logistics interdiction missions and shore bombardment, earning four battle stars. During the Vietnam War, the Orleck earned another fourteen stars and was named “Top Gun” for firing more shells than any other U.S. destroyer during the conflict. After being decommissioned in 1982, the ship was given to the Turkish Navy and renamed TCG Yucetepe (D 345). The Yucetepe operated in the Aegean and Mediterranean and was involved with NATO exercises until 1998.
In 2000, the ship was acquired from Turkey and towed back to Orange, Texas for use as a ship museum at Ochiltree-Inman Park. The Orleck and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. were the only two Gearing class destroyers that survived to become museum ships in the U.S. In September 2005, Hurricane Rita struck Texas, and the Orleck was severely damaged when it was blown from its moorings and collided with a rig on the Sabine River. Despite spending more than $200,000 to have the Orleck towed to town from Turkey, after repairs the city of Orange refused to allow it to return to its pier at Ochiltree-Inman Park.
The Jacksonville Shipyards could end up as the new permanent home for the USS Orleck.
With the Orleck in need of a new home, on May 9, 2009 the City Council of Lake Charles, Louisiana, authorized a measure to move the Orleck to town. No permanent home was ready when the ship arrived on May 20, 2010, and a grand opening took place on April 10, 2011. Plans for a permanent home fell through the identified site was purchased by Laguna Development Corporation.
It has been noted by the President of the USS Orleck Naval Museum Board, Mark Boudreaux that a lot of people are no longer interested in going to museums, even less so to museum ships. It’s sad that there isn’t more interest. I’m not sure, but I think it’s just a sign of the times; a sign of today’s culture.
In the five years since arriving at Lake Charles, the ship has hosted about 100,000 visitors. But that alone is not enough income to keep up repairs and insurance.
Source: 2016 War History Online article
With its backers unable to secure a permanent home in Lake Charles or to raise the necessary funds to adequately support it, the Orleck faces being either scuttled or scrapped if another community isn’t willing to take it. In a recent interview with KPLCTV, Ron Williams, Executive Director of the USS Orleck, stated the ship already has a museum, making it a “plug-and-play” attraction wherever it lands.
The USS Orleck would be located at this Jacksonville Shipyards pier if it comes to downtown.
Now news has surfaced that the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association desires the bring the struggling attraction to downtown Jacksonville after failing to acquire the USS Charles F. Adams. Believing the ship would survive a tow from Lake Charles to Jacksonville, the association is now seeking approval from the city of Jacksonville. If successful, the USS Orleck would be relocated to the left of an existing pier adjacent to Berkman II at the former Jacksonville Shipyards. Is Jacksonville ready to overcome the financial and attendance challenges that has led to this museum failing in two other southern communities over the last decade?
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org