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Decommissioning from the Turkish Navy

 

As told by Robert Orleck.

Over five thousand miles away in Asia, Turkish Navy crew and officers gathered at "Poyraz Pier" at the Naval Base in Golcuk/Kocaeli, Turkey on April 1, 1998. The sun was shinning and the bright colors of flags stretched from the masts to the decks of a number of ships lined up next to each other. There was a large numbers of Naval Officers and Crew in their dress uniforms some with finely dressed women at their side. The whole sight was impressive.

A canopy draped with flags was in front of two particular ships (TCG YUCETEPE D 345 and TCG ALCITEPE D-346) and halfway between was a table with nicely wrapped packages and caps. To the right and left of the table were podiums with microphones. To one side a large contingent of the Turkish Naval Band, poised for the ceremony to start. The guests were seated when a black shiny vehicle drove up to the canopy.

Four Star Admiral Ilhami ERDIL emerged and with his wife approached the first row center of the guest viewing area. There his place was prepared with a small table, his name plate, bottled water and flowers. The Admiral acknowledged the first row that was composed of the all prior Commanders of the two ships.

Behind were other invited guests. The Admiral approached and extended his hand to Robert and Barbara Orleck of Randolph, Vermont, thanked them for coming from America and expressed his honor at the visit. They exchanged that expression of honor bestowed on them for they truly feel it was an honor that was theirs. The decision to decommission TCG YUCETEPE had come very quickly with little or no time to get the word out or plan.The invitation from the Turkish Navy was made to Bob and they had all they could do to get their passports in the 10 days they had. Things worked out and they were able to attend.

The ceremony and all that was said and sung was in Turkish but for Bob and Barb Orleck, although they did not know the language, they understood. Language could not mask the tremendously strong and affectionate feelings that people had for these two ships and especially for one, TCG YUCETEPE D 345. For the time had come when these ships, as beautiful and as operational as they were and as well kept as they had been maintained, hadreached "the end of their mission" as Commander Er, the Commander of TCG YUCETEPE had related to Bob Orleck. The ship was 53 years old.

The ceremony was sad. The music and the words were clearly spoken with heavy hearts. At the end of the ceremony men came from the ship and painted over the colors and as she was taken from the pier by tugs in a symbolic removal from service. As she turned sideways facing the reviewing stand, her Commander Er took his hat off and waved good-bye. Then all her officers did the same. There was not a dry eye in the place.

USS ORLECK DD 886 had served 37 years from its commissioning on September 15, 1945 in the United States Navy. The ship was named for Joseph Orleck, a son of a Russian emigrant. Joseph joined the Navy, rose through the ranks and took command of the USS NAUSET AT 89 at age 37. During the invasion of Salerno Italy on Sept 9, 1943 when his ship was approaching the assault area in the Gulf of Salerno it was struck by aerial bombs and was immediately consumed by fire.


The citation given by the President of the United States upon the posthumous awarding of the Navy Cross said in part: "Lieutenant Orleck calmly and expertly directed the fire-fighting activities, the control of serious flooding and the transfer of all survivors to the rescue ships. Valiant and determined in the face of imminent peril, he remained aboard the stricken NAUSET in an attempt to beach her and prevent total loss, working desperately until she struck an enemy mine and sank. Lieutenant Orleck's indomitable fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Navy."

Lieutenant Orleck who had received numerous other medals during his life was honored with the rare naming of a ship, a United States Destroyer, after him. The ship was approved on 11 January 1945, launched 12 May 1945 and commissioned on September 15, 1945. It is from humble beginnings that a great ship with a great history developed.

Having been commissioned right at the end of World War II the ship entered into service at the beginning of what became known as the "Cold War" and through all those years she operated in that atmosphere with her service primarily in the 7th Fleet in the Pacific. Through that era and into the times of Korea, Vietnam, up until 1982 she served her country well. She always had good crews. She always out performed other ships of her kind. In Korea she was the initiator of the "Train Busters Club" in that she took out two enemy supply trains in the mountains as she silently and without lights waited in a cove for the train to approach, then opened fire shooting out the tracks before the train and then behind. At that point she would then spend the necessary time to blow the remainder of thetrain apart. This remarkable accomplishment was performed on two different occasions. After that, other ships got the idea and many performed the same feat.

During Vietnam she gained the reputation of Top Gun, having fired more rounds in support of our ground troops than any other ship. She developed the nickname, "Grey Ghost of the Vietnam Coast" because she always seemed to be there to provide fire cover for pinned down marines who called for her assistance.At the later part of her service she was used as a training vessel for our Naval Reserve Forces. At times she starred in movies and her most notable was in "Winds of War" mini-series. Those 5 inch guns you saw Pug Henry in front of. menacingly turning looking for its target, are her guns.

In December 1962 in what allowed her to continue as an active and effective Naval vessel she underwent what is known as a FRAM modernization. In this process she was equipped with the most modern equipment and weapons found on destroyers including ASROC Missile Launchers and DASH Systems which were unmanned helicopter drone systems that could launch offensive attacks on submarines. With these improvements she now had the capability to meet the needs of the modern Navy that required her to be able not only to be effective against subsurface and surface ships but also to be effective in anti-aircraft situations as well.


In 1982, the word came that it was time to retire USS ORLECK. She was not able to serve as the platform for the more sophisticated weaponry that the United States now had to deploy. She was still beautiful and in excellent condition and could still be of service to defend a dangerous world and interest was shown in her by our NATO Ally, Turkey.

It was this transfer to Turkey and the unbelievable additional 17 years she competently served Turkey that led to this April 1, 1998 decommissioning ceremony and to Bob and Barb Orleck having been invited by the Turkish Navy to be a part of it. It was this ship that had served both countries so well that now fostered a good will visit between peoples of two different cultures and has resulted in good close friendships having been developed between these peoples. It truly is a plus for international relations.

Bob Orleck is one of the nephews of Joseph Orleck. He has two brothers, Donald and Richard and a sister Shirley and two children, Dori (Orleck) Nason and Daniel Orleck. In the late 1980's after having always wondered why other ships had reunions of men who had served on them and the USS ORLECK did not, he saw a letter to the editor in the TIN CAN SAILOR newsletter from a former crewman on the USS ORLECK, Phil Klotz who wondered if anyone was interested in trying to get a group together. Bob excitedly called Mr. Klotz and together they started things rolling but it wasn't until another crewman, James Allison, who was very good at searching out previous crew members, came aboard that the group really grew large. Bob became the historian, edited and produced a newsletter called the SCUTTLEBUTT and served as Treasurer and Historian. The newsletter is large and contains articles, photos and information received from the crew and officers. The latest newsletter is 64 pages in length. In addition, Bob has taken on the duty of organizing the reunions that are held every two years.

The Orleck family did not know too much about their Uncle and the ship that was named for him because of a well meaning but misdirected love for Joseph Orleck's mother. Word of Lt. Orleck's death was withheld from his mother by his sister because she believed it would kill her. This secret was kept for thirteen years until his mother died having never known that her son actually died a hero to his country and had the honor of a United States destroyer being named in his honor.

Through his involvement in the Association, Bob made contacts with the Turkish Navy to learn about the ship. A friend and Retired Marine, Major M.W. McLaughlin was the initial contact and in fact he got so involved in the association that he visited the ship not only in Tacoma when she was a Naval Reserve Vessel but in Turkey as well. He would give reports back and that was printed in the SCUTTLEBUTT newsletter. Later Bob got to personally know the former Executive Officer of the TCG YUCETEPE, CMDR Cem GURDENIZ and from about 1995 they developed a close friendship.

From the time in the 1980's until present the USS ORLECK Association has continued to grow and now claims to be the "Biggest and Best Destroyer Organization in the World."

They say, "No boast, just a fact." With over 1000 members they meet in reunions every two years. The first reunion was in 1993 where 155 attended in San Antonio, then 1995 in the ship's home port of San Diego where 255 attended and last year in Charleston where 283 attended. The next reunion is scheduled June 30-July 4, 1999 in Portland, Maine and over 300 are expected to be there.

The Association is dedicated to telling the story not only of the ship but more importantly of the men who served in her. Bob has taken that task believing that the ship was nothing more than a hunk of metal but was made what it was and is by the men who served in her. His primary emphasis is in getting the history from the men and preserving it. It is as he says, "to get the essence of what gave the ship a personality, a life and if you will, a soul."

Bob met with Commander Gurdeniz aboard ship in Norfolk when returning to Vermont from Florida with his son at the end of the school year. The ship was one of 3 PERRY Class Guided Missile Frigates that the United States planned to transfer to Turkey. The transfer of these ships might well mean the decommissioning of the older ships in the Turkish Navy which would include the ex-USS ORLECK. As mentioned earlier, a friendship developed between Bob Orleck and Commander Gurdeniz that has continued to this time. It was natural that from time to time the talk of decommissioning would come up and what flowed from that was the talk of the possibility of making the ship into a Museum. Other discussions centered around bringing the ship back to the United States to attend a reunion or to have a reunion in Turkey. At the Charleston reunion it was decided that if the ship was still in active service in the year 2000 that we would have a reunion there.

Time went by and there continued to be reports of excellent duty by the ship. Reports came from Turkey that the ship in the last fleet exercise in June of 1997, which was a major sea exercise (C-Wolf 97), recorded the best score among state-of-the-art frigates. Most of her time was spent in the Aegean and Mediterranean. She performed admirably with very accurate target hits during major naval gun fire support exercises and received a commendation from CinC Fleet. The ship was the leading ship during naval parades, on Turkish Victory Day of 30 August and in October 1997. In October 1997 the TCG YUCETEPE participated in a NATO exercise with French and Italian ships and her performance was excellent. The last report was that on Turkish Republic Proclamation Day, 29 October 1997, there was a big ceremony in the Bosphorus (black sea and Aegean). The TCG YUCETEPE with a Four Star Admiral aboard led an armada of 15 ships as they paraded along the coast. She fired 19 shots from her 5-38" guns as a salute to the Governor of Istambul

Political problems in this country caused the commissioning of the Perry Class Guide Missile Frigates to be postponed and thoughts of the decommissioning of the TCG YUCETEPE became more faint. However in January 1998, the commissioning of these ships proceeded and the question had to be again asked as to whether the ex-USS ORLECK, TCG YUCETEPE would now be decommissioned.

Bob received an invitation to be a guest at the commissioning of the three Perry Class frigates in North Charleston that would occur on January 11, 1998. Shortly after returning from that ceremony he received a message from Commander Gurdeniz that the decision had been made to decommission the TCG YUCETEPE. Bob asked for details with the thought of being present and getting the word out and after contacts were made in Turkey was told that the decision had been changed and the ship that was still in good shape would have its life extended. It took eleven days for the three newly commissioned ships to return to Turkey. Commander Gurdeniz sent an e-mail saying they had a "very smooth Atlantic crossing and arrived at home yesterday. We had a wonderful welcome ceremony by all the Turkish fleet ships and the families of the crew." However, on their arrival it was also learned by the Commander that the decision had again been made to decommission the TCG YUCETEPE. This time it was really going to happen. He advised Bob that "Admiral will be very pleased to see you in the ceremony. Please make your plans I will arrange your accommodations here in Golcuk Naval Base and will arrange meetings with you and the Fleet Commander..." and others. "Tomorrow I will visit YUCETEPE in order to visit her the last time. It is so sad, however it is a fact."

Bob wanted to attend the decommissioning in the worst way. He had never seen the ship nor knew his uncle. He had always desired to be able to touch that ship and to walk on her deck but it did not look good. It was less than 2 weeks away and he didn't even have a current passport. It was very obvious from all the communications that the Turkish Navy wanted him to attend as representative of the Orleck family and the USS ORLECK Association. Another communication from Turkey read in part, "I mentioned about the museum project to 5 Admirals and the last Commanding Officer. If you can come over here only thing you have to do is to come to Istambul. The rest belongs to us. You will be picked up by official Navy Car with an Escort Officer to Golcuk. It will take two hours drive then you will be a guest of Turkish Navy. The last Commanding Officer will arrange an Istambul tour for you after the ceremony. We will arrange your accommodations and transportation in Istambul as well. I arranged a Protocol Dinner with Admirals for you so you can talk about your desire for the museum. We also arranged a lunch in the ship and a tour to the existing destroyer museum and many other places. So only thing you have to think is to fly to Istambul and leave the rest to us. So, my friend it is life. The last Captain is doing his best to preserve the ship intact. Nothing left the ship yet and he prepares everything as if the ship will be a museum ship.

At the encouraging of friends Bob and Barb applied for an expedited passport and asked Senator Patrick Leahy's office to assist which they did. Plane flights were the next problem. There were flights in but because of the upcoming Islamic Muslim holiday in Turkey (Sacrifice celebration), many people were using the airlines to go to their homes and flights out when Bob and Barb had to return were unavailable. The Turkish Navy worked hard to book a flight for him and finally after work by his daughter on the Internet and many calls a flight was found. The passports arrived and Bob and his wife Barb were on their way.

They were picked up at the airport by two Turkish Naval Officers. During their stay they were provided with a car and driver and a Naval Officer, Ensign Baris Yigitsoy as an Escort Officer. They were housed as guests of the Turkish Navy in accommodations reserved for Admirals. They were treated as dignitaries, received into the homes of the their hosts and honored with beautiful meals and gifts. At a protocol dinner the evening of the decommissioning Bob had the opportunity to speak to the officers and their wives at a special time through an interpreter.

At the decommissioning ceremony, Bob was surprised with a plaque that was made by taking the plaque that the United States had given Turkey on the commissioning of the ship in 1982, and using that to make a larger plaque. Upon presenting it to Bob, Admiral Erdil said, "It is a great honor to the people of Turkey for you to have come from America to be with us this day. What I am going to give you is something valuable to us and is of great historical significance. It is the plaque that the United States gave very obvious from all the communications that the Turkish Navy wanted him to attend as representative of the Orleck family and the USS ORLECK Association. Another communication from Turkey read in part, "I mentioned about the museum project to 5 Admirals and the last Commanding Officer. If you can come over here only thing you have to do is to come to Istambul. The rest belongs to us. You will be picked up by official Navy Car with an Escort Officer to Golguk. It will take two hours drive then you will be a guest of Turkish Navy. The last Commanding Officer will arrange an Istambul tour for you after the ceremony. We will arrange your accommodations and transportation in Istambul as well. I arranged a Protocol Dinner with Admirals for you so you can talk about your desire for the museum. We also arranged a lunch in the ship and a tour to the existing destroyer museum and many other places. So only thing you have to think is to fly to Istambul and leave the rest to us. So, my friend it is life. The last Captain is doing his best to preserve the ship intact. Nothing left the ship yet and he prepares everything as if the ship will be a museum ship.

At the encouraging of friends Bob and Barb applied for an expedited passport and asked Senator Patrick Leahy's office to assist which they did. Plane flights were the next problem. There were flights in but because of the upcoming Islamic Muslim holiday in Turkey (Sacrifice celebration), many people were using the airlines to go to their homes and flights out when Bob and Barb had to return were unavailable. The Turkish Navy worked hard to book a flight for him and finally after work by his daughter on the Internet and many calls a flight was found. The passports arrived and Bob and his wife Barb were on their way.

They were picked up at the airport by two Turkish Naval Officers. During their stay they were provided with a car and driver and a Naval Officer, Ensign Baris Yigitsoy as an Escort Officer. They were housed as guests of the Turkish Navy in accommodations reserved for Admirals. They were treated as dignitaries, received into the homes of the their hosts and honored with beautiful meals and gifts. At a protocol dinner the evening of the decommissioning Bob had the opportunity to speak to the officers and their wives at a special time through an interpreter.

At the decommissioning ceremony, Bob was surprised with a plaque that was made by taking the plaque that the United States had given Turkey on the commissioning of the ship in 1982, and using that to make a larger plaque. Upon presenting it to Bob, Admiral Erdil said, "It is a great honor to the people of Turkey for you to have come from America to be with us this day. What I am going to give you is something valuable to us and is of great historical significance. It is the plaque that the United States gave us upon the commissioning of the ship in 1982. We now present it to you." It was inscribed at the bottom "To Mr. Bob Orleck. Presented by Admiral Ilhami ERDIL on the occasion of decommissioning ceremony of TCG YUCETEPE 1.4.1998"

Bob's remembrances are in having seen the ship for the first time and the feelings that flooded into him. Barb had experienced this in 1982 and again in 1998. She was the only woman to have attended both decommissioning ceremonies. The only other person to have been at both was Commander Baykan Dilberoglu, the first Commanding Officer of TCG YUCETEPE D 345.

To touch the ship and having tears flow. Being able to spend time on the ship before it was decommissioned with Commander Er in his stateroom having tea and cake and given a gift. Having been treated so well by their Turkish friends. Having been piped from the ship upon departing was a high point. Having been able see an already existing ship's museum and to engage in talks with important individuals who could be instrumental in saving the ship as a Museum. Having spent 3 days in Istambul touring around both the European and Asian parts of the city, shopping at the Grand Bazaar, seeing the Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce and Topkapi Palaces, St. Hagia, the Galata Tower and more. The greatest thing was the sincere and honest feeling of honor that they felt that a relative of Joseph Orleck and a representative of the USS ORLECK Association would come so far to attend the ceremony. Bob and Barb came away with such a feeling for the people of Turkey. "They are most definitely a caring people who live in a dangerous part of the world and they want peace as much if not more than we do." according to Bob "They do things in such a quality way which is represented by the way they took a 37 year old ship and maintained it in the way they did. It looked like new. I was so amazed at the condition of that ship. The Turks really know their business."

This is a story of a ship that has served two countries. There are strong and fond feelings toward her that are hard to explain to someone who has not served on a ship. They loved their ship and they sent her off with such an appropriate good-bye. "After experiencing the ship in the way I did", Bob said, "it is easy to see why the men who served in such a ship, loved her."

What is next? Maybe a museum? If not she will be scrapped. The decision has to made fairly soon. Some say within six months to a year. As of now the ship is being maintained intact with ten crew and an officer assigned to her. There are such strong feelings by the men of both countries that this ship, originally designed to last only ten to fifteen years and the last of its kind, should be preserved for others to see and to carry the story of her service and other such ships. If the costs can be met, the desire is there.

What is clear is that this ship, while just a piece of metal, is special to so many people and has caused peoples of different continents to get to know each other and to bridge gaps. This ship, the ex-USS ORLECK DD 886 and now ex-TCG YUCETEPE D 345, has made her place in history and has been home to so many grateful men who considered her their friend and their home both in the United States of America and in Turkey.

Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved. USS Orleck Naval Museum.

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