JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A highly decorated retired Navy destroyer will soon become a downtown attraction on the St. Johns River.
Daniel Bean, president of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, signed for ownership of the USS Orleck on Tuesday afternoon.
“As you all know the city of Jacksonville is the third largest navy installation in our country and like the other 35 cities with war ships on display it is time for Jacksonville to have a symbol of the United States Navy and what the United States Navy has meant to Jacksonville and its development,” Bean said.
The JHNSA has been working with the city to make the USS Orleck a Jacksonville Naval Museum at the Shipyards. They now hope to have the top tier open to the public in 30 days.
At a private ceremony Tuesday at Manifest Distillery, the Jacksonville Naval Museum took official ownership of the USS Orleck Museum Ship.
“This will be a wonderful attraction for the city, this will be a wonderful way to honor all of the veterans in Northeast Florida,” Bruce Fouraker, JHNSA board member, said. “Jacksonville has over 250,000 military veterans that live in the area and this is just a wonderful thing to have.”
The USS Orleck is in dry dock, in Texas, where it has undergone a bow to stern inspection. A sign already placed in the Jacksonville shipyards says “coming soon – Future home of the USS Orleck Museum Ship.”
But getting to this point has come with challenges.
The cost to bring the Orleck to Jacksonville has gone up significantly from the last estimate in March 2020 of $1.3 million and $56,000 for paint.
The project is now expected to have a price tag of $1.8 million due to $250,000 of new repairs needed because of Hurricane Laura, cost increases include money for materials, fuel and labor -- plus $65,000 for paint.
In September, News4JAX spoke with Justin Weakland, a member of the Jacksonville Naval Museum, who said getting this ship to Jacksonville would create an instant tourist attraction because we have Naval stations here, veterans and history lovers who would want to see this ship.
The group has released some examples of what the museum could look like once it’s complete and is collecting donations to help offset the cost.
Next to the ship, there are plans for a ticket office, gift shop and a park that could include Naval aircraft on display.
The Jacksonville Naval Museum will feature the “US Navy Cold War Experience,” which is represented by the ex-USS Orleck.
It is named after Lt. Joseph Orleck. The ship was called the “Top Gun” of Vietnam, fired 11,000+ rounds earning the nickname “Grey Ghost of the Vietnam Coast” and netting an astonishing 14 battle stars throughout the war. It received dozens of awards for military service.
It was the most decorated post World War II ship ever built and supporters said that is reason enough to save it.
The Orleck embodies the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War periods in US Navy history, having served in all three.
To fund the only U.S. Naval warship museum in Florida, the group has $2.5 million: $1 million from the state of Florida and another $1.5 million from loans and creditors.
It will support veterans as a local resource and networking center.
The original plans to bring the USS Adams to downtown Jacksonville as a floating museum were scrapped -- along with the ship.