USS Orleck reopens on Jacksonville’s waterfront

Published on May 24, 2023 at 4:18 pm

The USS Orleck has officially reopened for tours, in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

The veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars reopened on Wednesday and is now set for daily tours this holiday weekend, including Memorial Day on Monday.

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Docked at 610 E Bay St. behind the as-yet reopened Jacksonville Fire Museum, tour hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday through Friday, then 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. The last visitors may board 30 minutes before closing.

The retired U.S. Navy destroyer will also be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at the old shipyard Pier 1.

The public reopening comes just over a year after the Orleck came to the city and two months after it was towed to its permanent home on the St. Johns riverfront. Normal public visits ended when the ship was moved.

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 The USS Orleck could become a floating museum docked at a pier in the Shipyards.

The USS Orleck has reopened for tours. | Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association

The Gearing-class destroyer was built in 1945 and operated in the Navy’s 7th Fleet during the Korean War. Renovated in 1962, the 390-foot warship once known as the “Grey Ghost” went to sea during the Vietnam War, earning 14 Battle Stars on top of four awarded it during the Korean conflict. The Orleck later served as a training ship, then was a floating museum in Orange, Texas, then again in 2010 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Ship ownership was transferred in 2019 to the Jacksonville Naval Museum after three years of disuse. The Orleck was towed in late March 2022 to a mooring site Downtown on the St. Johns River, next to the Hyatt Regency.

Early on April 3, powerful tugboats moved the 2,250-ton warship to the Shipyards, its keel sliding into silt in the basin. Now a $100,000 wooden access ramp will connect to a 70-foot-long gangway. Another gangway at the bow remains for crew and emergency access to and from the old pier, while a maritime museum ticket center with air conditioned bathrooms is now on shore.

The Orleck is the first part of a planned riverfront development that will include the Jacksonville Fire Museum, moved next door in March 2022. Just west, the city has begun a Catherine Street extension that will include angled parking. Just east of the USS Orleck is what will be called Shipyards West Park, across from the Maxwell House plant. Then the second generation of Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History is planned for 2.5 acres of the Shipyards along East Bay Street, with a riverwalk and park space.

The Jacksonville Naval Museum hosted a private ceremony last week to commemorate the day in 1945 when the USS Orleck was officially launched into its long military duty.

The ship museum also will host a shipboard Kutting For Kids event from noon to 4 p.m. June 25, to raise funds to fix the warship’s berthing areas so it can host youth overnight stays and education programs. Participants will receive a haircut, with hair donated to Locks of Love, a charity that provides hairpieces to children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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