USS Orleck- Lake Charles, Louisiana

The USS Orleck’s awards
Lucky for us, there is a United States Navy Destroyer docked on the Calcasieu River close to Lake Charles. The USS Orleck was built in 1945 in Orange, Texas, and served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, receiving many awards for its service. It was decommissioned in 1982, and transferred to the Turkish Navy. They decommissioned it in 1999 and it returned to Orange, Texas to become a museum ship. Hurricane Rita messed it up, and they decided to move it to Lake Charles in 2010. It has been there ever since.  

We went to check it out and the tour they gave as well as the boat itself exceeded my expectations. When we first arrived, we actually had to enter the boat to pay the entrance fee. I was not sure how the whole thing worked, but Landon took off down a hallway and I followed him. Turns out, someone had just started a tour, so we jumped in with that couple and we took a two-hour tour of the boat.  Starting off, a man who was working on getting the radio systems to work did our tour because the tour guide was running late. He had interesting tidbits of information and had an unique perspective because he had also served in the Navy. Then a high school-aged boy took over the tour. He did ROTC in high school and volunteered on the ship over the summer. He mostly runs the Laser Tag games that take place on the ship, but since he knows so much about it he also does tours.  He was super knowledgeable on the ship and was a very polite and courteous young man. He was so worried that Landon was going to hurt himself, but Landon was fine.

We started with the infirmary. Any injured or sick sailors went here to get medicine. There was not a doctor on board, so for anything more serious they were moved to a bigger ship with a doctor. From the size of the room, it seemed that only one person better be sick at a time or they couldn’t take care of them all!  
Old Navy recipes

Next we saw the galley. It had two steam kettles that used steam from the ship to cook food. There were ovens and toaster ovens and pantries with food storage space. My favorite item in this room was a recipe card box with recipes to feed 100-200 men. With a capacity of 320-350 people, I guess they would have to double the recipes to feed everyone! The front card was for baking powder biscuits. It was neat to flip through the cards and see what they ate. Mostly, I saw recipes for desserts.

Mess line

Next, we saw the mess line. It was quite small for the amount of people and food that needed to accommodated there. To get from the kitchen to the mess line, the cooks had to carry the food down a set of narrow, very steep stairs. Hopefully the sea wasn’t choppy at the time, or the food would be all over! I guess this is as good a time as any to say that Austin had a hard time fitting in this boat. The ceilings were often too low and the steep stairs to go down to the next deck were a special challenge.

 Attached to the mess line was the mess hall. The tables had lips on them to keep the trays on the table. The guide remarked that someone that had served on a similar boat said that although the lips kept the tray on the table, it did not keep the food on the tray!

Down on that same level was the firing room. There were switches for all different guns and such and some original glass tubes running a radio intercom system for the boat. The guy giving the tour was trying to repair the system so that it would work properly. I was impressed that it even turned on!

Firing room

We went up on the front deck to see the front guns. There were two anchors in the front with big anchor chains!

Front of the ship and guns

Me, Landon and anchor chains
Landon was pretty impressed!

Landon did a great job staying on board the ship. With just thin wire fences all around the ship, I was constantly afraid of him falling over board. Or down a hole. But he stayed close and did not go too close to the edge of the ship.

Next, we went to the bridge of the boat. There was a helm and all sorts of other buttons and levers. The captain had a small sleeping area right behind the bridge with a tube running in between so he could be alerted and called to the bridge in a moment’s notice. There were also tubes to yell down to the fire rooms and engine rooms.

Bridge of the boat

The Little Captain!

Next were the radar and sonar areas. They had very interesting instruments and boards in there that helped them find enemy boats and submarines. I’m sure the equipment was top of the line for its time, and some of it still turned on! The charting area was right next to the radar and sonar rooms. I’m sure they used the information from these rooms to chart their course!

Radar room
Charting area

Landon detecting enemy ships

Ocean chart
Sonar room
View from the ship into the river…there are alligators in there somewhere!
Interesting sign
Small arms armory

One of the more interesting areas were the sleeping quarters. We started with the officers’ sleeping quarters. They had desks and closets and solid bunks, and only had 2-4 to a room. It definitely paid to be an officer! There was a commodore’s cabin with a private bathroom and shower, but only the admiral (if he was onboard) or the captain stayed there. The officers all shared a small bathroom. Down a level in the belly of the ship were the cots for the normal sailors. The only space they had for personal belongings was a little trunk or bag that sat underneath the bunks. Showers could only last one minute, the first spritz of water was salt water, and the only fresh water they got was for rinsing. Hundreds of sailors shared a small bathroom and shower area. Yikes! The first thought I had when we went into the sailor bunk area is “Wow, if one of these guys had a cold, or a stomach virus, or something, they could all get it in one night!”

When they were preparing the ship for use as a museum, they found Turkish cigarettes and lots of discarded uniforms. I’m sure they found other things, but that’s all that was mentioned. It makes it more real to see the personal affects of people who used to live there. I can’t imagine living on a boat like this. I’m fine visiting islands, but being isolated in a boat in the middle of the open ocean does not appeal to me!

Officer’s cabin
Going down to the other bunkroom that has been turned into a museum

We took a few pictures of the museum- mostly it was old uniforms, model airplanes, and boats, and artifacts from the different wars the boat participated in. We did not take very many pictures because we spent most of our time trying to keep Landon from destroying the model airplanes!

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The ONLY way to get Landon out of the area that had the model airplanes was to promise that he could see the helicopter soon. So we went out on the front deck. We actually got to go in the back gun area and see the system that brought the munition from down below in the ship, how the crew loaded them into the gun, fired them, and then put the hot munition shells out a chute in the back of the gun. Sailors would take the hot shells and store them somewhere to be refilled and reused later.

Then we came to the main event- the helicopter drone! This was a second generation drone. They controlled it with remote controls and kept track of its location with eye sight (it didn’t travel very far.) To use it during warfare, they strapped torpedos to the bottom of it, flew it over to an enemy ship, and dropped the torpedos. The difficult part was getting the helicopter to come back- often it was shot down or did not respond to controls from that far away and was lost. It was a one-shot thing.

Garage where they kept helicopter drones

Torpedo storage area… these don’t have gunpowder in them

I’ve never seen one of these in person, it is cool to see the little propeller on the back. 
Mid ship guns… they turn around to shoot enemies come from the sides of the ship

The last stop of our tour was the mid-ship guns. I don’t know what they are called technically. The guns still turn 180 degrees, but only with special equipment on and our tour guide said they don’t turn them on very often. They had to turn them using a lever right next to the guns, which means that sailors were out on deck while they were firing. My mom had a friend that served on a boat in the Marines and he lost his hearing from the very loud guns going out on deck.

My boys on a boat
The ship was long
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Our last fun thing we did is let Landon ring the bell. He was surprised by how loud it was. After the initial shock, he wanted to ring it again and again!

The ship from the parking lot. 

To reach the ship, we went through a narrow gate that looked like it belonged to an abandoned lot. It had a little sign that said “USS Orleck” on it. And then there was this giant ship there, attached to a floating barge.

Boys and ships… perfect combination!

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