JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The centerpiece of Jacksonville’s Naval Museum opens to the public next week. The USS Orleck will officially welcome guests on board starting Wednesday.
“That is a neat hunk of steel, but without the men that served on her, that is all she would be,” said Bob Orleck, nephew of the late Lt. Joseph Orleck -- the ship’s namesake.
Lt. Joseph Orleck was the commanding officer of USS NAUSET, which sank after an attack in the Gulf of Salerno in 1943. Lt. Orleck was reported missing in action and presumed dead the following year.
Standing on a piece of floating history named for his uncle was a special moment for Bob Orleck.
“This is an example of a miracle. This ship was going to be scrapped if she wasn’t saved by the people of Jacksonville,” he said.
This ship is finally opening to the public on the Northbank in Jacksonville as a museum -- something Naval Museum president Daniel Bean has been working toward for 12 years.
“We dreamed big and here we are,” Bean said.
After the original plans to bring the USS Adams to Jacksonville fell through, organizers were left to find another ship, and the USS Orleck fit the bill.
The Orleck, the most decorated post-World War II ship, fought in the Korean, Vietnam and Cold War periods. Its service stretched nearly 80 years.
“She was one of the workhorses of the United States Navy,” Bob Orleck said. “Men who really wanted to serve their country and wanted to preserve our freedoms.”
Now it’s serving the public who want to get a glimpse of that history.
It is free to visit, although donations are accepted.
Visitors can either join a guided tour or use a brochure to take a self-guided tour. Some of the markings along the ship will indicate where you can go. Eventually, you’ll be able to use a QR code with your phone to get more specific breakdowns on different parts of the ship you want to see.
When you go inside the ship, expect some tight quarters.
Some of the places you’ll be able to see on the ship are the areas where the sailors ate, slept, got haircuts and what life was like aboard the USS Orleck.
Bob Orleck said he hopes visitors think about the service of those who lived aboard the ship when they come to visit.
“I want to go aboard and think of them and about what they did for this nation during those times because she is just an example of what America was and what it should again try to be,” he said.
Visitors can come on board the USS Orleck from Wednesdays through Sundays.
Regular hours will be:
- Wednesday through Fridays: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
- Saturday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
“We are going to be constantly working on it. We want to make sure that when folks get on it, it is as safe as it can be,” Bean said. “Remember, it is a warship.”
Converting the ship to a museum and moving it from Texas to Jacksonville cost a little more than $2 million.