- September 9, 2021
Bob Orleck was 2 years old when his uncle, Lt. Joseph Orleck, died aboard a U.S. Naval ship Sept. 9, 1943, during the battle of Salerno, Italy, in World War II.
The 80-year-old commemorated his uncle’s legacy and namesake ship, the USS Orleck DD-886, at a Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association news conference Sept. 23 announcing the naval museum will open to the public Sept. 28.
“This is an example of a miracle,” Bob Orleck said.
“This ship was going to be scrapped. She was saved by the people of Jacksonville. Now, I just see this ship here … if you didn’t know Jacksonville was a Navy town, you sure know it when you see the USS Orleck.”
Bob Orleck traveled from North Carolina to join city officials, association representatives and VyStar Credit Union President and CEO Brian Wolfburg for the media briefing and ship tour.
A 1945 Gearing Class destroyer, the USS Orleck will feature the “US Navy Cold War Experience.”
For now, the ship is docked in front of the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront on the Downtown Riverwalk.
The gates open as the nonprofit negotiates with the city for more time before it moves to its planned permanent home at Pier No. 1 at the Shipyards. The association’s development agreement approved by City Council in August 2021 will expire Oct. 1.
The USS Orleck arrived in Jacksonville on March 26 after months of delays.
The association planned to move the ship to the Shipyards in June but Executive Director Jim Webb said they’re asking the Downtown Investment Authority and city for a six-month extension.
Webb said it cost $322,000 to transport the ship from its drydock inspection location in Texas and it will cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to move it to Pier No. 1.
Webb acknowledged that the association was not going to be able to meet all of the requirements in the DIA and city agreement by the Oct. 1 deadline.
According to Webb, the association is hesitant to move the ship until designs for a 10-acre park planned for the Shipyards that will incorporate the USS Orleck are complete.
“That space just isn’t ready for us yet,” Webb said after the news conference.
“I want to move to the exact spot on Pier No. 1 so that we’re in the exact spot for the design of that park. And since that design is not here yet, I don’t want to get down there and have to move 50 feet up and down the pier.”
VyStar provided the association a $1.5 million line of credit as a financial contribution for the naval museum project, according to a credit union spokesperson.
“The USS Orleck stands as a shining example of what the men and women of our military do every day and what they exhibit at their core when they provide the strength to support our country and we’re just so proud to back you in any way possible,” Wolfburg said.
According to Wolfburg, VyStar gave more than $1 million to military initiatives and organizations in 2021, part of nearly $7 million the credit union gave last year to 300 nonprofits and cultural organizations.
“We do not forget our roots,” he said.
“We do not forget where we started and our legacy of ties to the military and to be able to continue that today for us is very important.”
The USS Orleck will open to VyStar employees Sept. 24 and the credit union’s members Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. before it opens to the general public next week. VyStar members can show their credit or debit cards for entry.
Wolfburg said VyStar will continue to support the USS Orleck project and other Downtown initiatives.
“I am hopeful that as our community starts to be aware that the ship is now open they’ll come out and support it by visits, support it by donations and continuing to move forward not only the USS Orleck, but other great projects for Downtown.”
The Orleck was launched May 12, 1945. Its primary service during the Vietnam War was in the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
According to the association, the Orleck was awarded 18 battle stars and is the most decorated post-World War II ship.
The Orleck served during the Korean, Vietnam and Cold War eras and was modified under the Navy’s Fleet Rehabilitation and Maintenance Program in the 1960s, the release says.
After its Navy service, the ship was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed the Yüctepe (D 345). It was transferred back to the United States in August 2000. In 2010, it opened as a museum in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association spent years trying to bring the 437-foot USS Charles F. Adams to Jacksonville. It secured $2.8 million through donations, private capital, bank loans and state grants to refurbish the ship and move it Downtown.
The U.S. Navy decided not to donate the Adams and instead salvage the ship.
The original agreement with Council did not include a provision to provide tax money to the museum nonprofit and requires the association to reevaluate the cost of running the ship every five years.
However, the Council Finance Committee approved adding $50,000 to the city’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget to help the ship connect to utilities at Pier No. 1, at the request of Council member Nick Howland.
Council is scheduled to take its final vote on the budget Sept. 27.
The city is requiring the association to keep in reserve 110% of the cost of towing the Orleck from the Shipyards to a naval scrapyard in Texas as financial protection for the city.