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"It's a part of me now": Former ship superintendent is restoring the Destroyer

A former ship superintendent of the USS Orleck is in Jacksonville, helping to make repairs to the Destroyer so it can become a museum ship.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In March the downtown Jacksonville skyline got considerably more historic when the USS Orleck sailed down the St. Johns River.  Crews have been hard at work over the past month refurbishing the ship and that includes a man who has more experience with the ship than any living person.

"They could use some help and I'm glad to help," says Steve Miller, "it's something we've been trying to do for years to save the ship, it has a lot of historic value."

For 12 years Steve Miller served as the Superintendent of the USS Orleck when it was docked in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Right now the navy veteran is visiting Jacksonville to help restore the Destroyer.

"I've been with the ship for 12 years and it's just part of me now I guess," says Miller, "and I just wanted to continue helping them make sure this ship makes it as a museum ship."

There's still a lot of work yet to be done on the Orleck, but years ago the gun mount was restored by a WWII veteran.  That gun mount is Miller's favorite part of the Orleck.

"His health was going down," recalls Miller, "and before he quit coming to the ship he asked me to take care of his gun mount for him, so I inherited it from him."

Much more of the ship is currently being renovated, but First Coast News got a private tour of the ship from the Jacksonville Naval Museum.

"This would be your operating table," says Jacksonville Naval Museum Treasurer, Craig Bernat, "we actually have on loan from Navy History and Heritage Command a x-ray machine and you could read the x-rays over here on the wall."

The ship's office is also in the process of being restored.  Among the more than half-century-old books was a bible that was donated to the ship from a widow whose husband served on the Orleck years ago.

"In honor of my deceased husband Ward Hershey, US Navy," Bernat reads as he closes the cover of the bible, "so this will stay with the ship since it was given to the ship and has USS Orleck in it.  Normally a ship like this did not have a chaplain on board because it was so small."

The ship isn't ready for tours and a vast majority of it is being worked on by volunteers.

"Here's your laundry room," says Bernat, "this is your big washing machine, they'd wash in salt water and rinse in fresh water."

A rehab process, made easier with the help of a man who was the ship's Superintendent for more than a decade.

"Steve knows every little in and out of this ship," says Bernat, "without him we might be lost on some items."

"I think it'll mean a lot to Vietnam era veterans and all branches of the service," says Miller, "it was really active in Vietnam and I think it'll be a good thing to have something like this anywhere where veterans can see it."

Especially on the shores of Florida's largest Navy town.

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