USS Orleck docks in Downtown Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The USS Orleck, one of the most decorated ships in U.S Navy history, made its way to Downtown Jacksonville at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The ship will become the centerpiece for the Jacksonville Naval Museum.

Action News Jax spoke with Russ Freel who served on the USS Orleck from 1969 to 1971 in Vietnam.

“It’s been a long time,” Freel said. “It needs to be here.”

Now, more than 50 years later -- he’s back and says watching the ship sail down the St. Johns River was overwhelming.

“Everybody is so interested,” Freel said. “The organizations that are waiting in line to come and help. It’s amazing. It’s going to be good.”

The USS Orleck entered the St. Johns River channel around 7:30 Saturday.

Action News Jax received an inside look, first taking a tugboat to meet the historic ship and then climbing a rope ladder to make it aboard with the help of Navy sailors.

City leaders say this comes after more than 12 years of waiting.

“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and it’s finally actually happening,” Jim Webb with the Jacksonville Naval Museum said.

The ship left from Texas on March 17 and will create a space for military reunions, field trips, and tours.

You can find the Orleck temporarily docked along the Northbank Riverwalk until the museum’s new home is ready at the Jacksonville Shipyards West.

The USS Orleck fired more than 11,000 shots during the Vietnam War.

“Many said this ship saved their lives,” Craig Bernat with the Jacksonville Naval Museum said.

Jacksonville is the third largest Navy city in the nation and the largest Navy city in Florida.

Action News Jax spoke with Dori Orleck Nason who said the Orleck was named after her great uncle.

“This is just an overwhelming experience,” Nason said. “The last time I was on the ship I was 11. This is just really special.”

Transforming the Orleck into a museum will cost around $2 million, and they expect to open it up to the public by June -- right in time for the city’s Bicentennial.

For more information on the USS Orleck and its history, click HERE.