Plans to dock a Navy vessel in downtown Jacksonville are producing solid results, at last.
The USS Orleck, a Navy destroyer built in 1945, will be docked on the Northbank near the site of the old courthouse, now demolished. It was approved by the City Council last month.
Local lawyer and retired Navy captain Dan Bean has been the prime mover on the project and he continues working to make it fit with other plans for the area where Catherine Street ends at the St. Johns River.
Arguably, it should have been done long ago. Jacksonville Naval Air Station opened in October 1940 and the city has been a naval hub since then, later adding Mayport Naval Station and Cecil Field, which closed 20 years ago.
The ship is en route to Texas and a hull survey test will be done. The ship broke loose last year during a hurricane and ran a mile up river but had no apparent damage.
If it fails the hull test, the backers will seek another ship as a replacement.
To date the project will have cost the non-profit organization $400,000 by the time the Orleck gets in drydock.
The Orleck, it turns out, has a rich history. According to its former executive officer, who was interviewed by Action News, it fired more rounds during the Vietnam War than any other ship, and was known as “the Gray Ghost.”
When docked there the ship would be the center of a larger naval tribute, including the Navy Museum formerly housed in the Jacksonville Landing and a veterans park, with a memorial wall and the Lone Sailor statue now at the School Board building.
How much actually will materialize rests largely upon the Downtown Investment Authority.
The dogged attempt to create a Navy image for the city downtown has been led for years by Bean and Justin Weakland, another Navy vet. They had a setback three years ago when plans to get another Navy ship fell through but they have persisted. Bean said they would welcome any aid, either financial or in the form of volunteer work.
Eye on Jacksonville supports this effort to recognize the U.S. Navy and its importance to the city and the nation.