JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The USS Orleck -- the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Naval Museum -- opened to the public Wednesday after a weeklong delay caused by Hurricane Ian.
The ship has been docked on the Northbank since March, and that is where it will stay for now, but that is not the floating museum’s permanent home.
Daniel Bean, the president of the Jacksonville Naval Museum, said plans for the Orleck to move to the Shipyards, also known as “Pier 1,” are in the works.
For the time being, when people come to the ship, they’ll be able to take either guided or self-guided tours to get a glimpse of what it was like to serve on the USS Orleck.
The ship was in service for almost 80 years and is the most decorated post-World War II vessel -- after fighting in the Korean, Vietnam and Cold War periods.
John Nooney was the first person in line Wednesday, the sight was a big deal to him.
“I just think of the generations of service and sacrifice that every member of the military has endured, not only just in the Navy but in all branches of service,” Nooney said.
Bean said getting the Orleck to the city was 12 years in the making, and it took a little more than six months for workers and volunteers to get the ship ready for visitors.
“I thought it was done really well. It has been updated. It has been conditioned so it is easy to navigate through it. You start to realize how big the boat is,” said Eric Anderson, who was visiting from Ohio.
People can walk around both inside and outside the ship, checking out the deck and rooms like the radio room and how those on the ship communicated with each other.
“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, remember it is a warship. And that the experience is as positive as it can be. There will be spaces that you will not be able to get into. The whole ship will not be open, but we also want to make it as enjoyable as possible,” Bean said.
Arletha Johns, who served in the National Guard, said she has been anticipating this day because of the rich history on this ship. It reminds her of her time in the military and how serving runs deep in her family both before and after her time in the National Guard.
“It was amazing. The education of knowing history. That is straight history right there. How could you not want to know about what someone has done to help us, and help others in war and all of the countries they went to, and fought everything?” Johns said. “I looked at all of the quarters, I looked at where the captain stayed, I looked at the rooms, I looked at the suit hanging up, I looked at the pictures, I look at the dining room area. It is amazing. All of the old chairs, the old stove. Everything.”
When the ship moves, it will share the space with the Fire Museum, the same area where the Berkman II Plaza once stood. Bean said it is possible the Orleck could move within the next six months.
“We also need to have that area accessible, and I think the city has done a really nice job of getting the Fire Museum ready to go and then the Berkman II Plaza material is gone. We have about four or five weeks of work to do on the pier itself,” Bean said.
The USS Orleck is named after Lt. Joseph Orleck, who went missing in action in 1943 during an attack in the Gulf of Salerno.
His nephew, Bob, said there is a lot of value to this ship.
“She was one of the workhorses of the United States Navy,” Bob Orleck said during a ceremony ahead of the opening. “Men who really wanted to serve their country and wanted to preserve our freedoms.”
People can start coming here to visit starting at 9 a.m. It is free to visit, but there are recommended donations of $15 for every adult and $10 for every child.
The ship will be open for visits:
- Wednesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.