A Tribute to Senator Robert Dole (friend of USS ORLECK DD 886)
By Robert L. Orleck – December 7, 2021
Senator Bob Dole died early Sunday at age 98. He will lie in state in the US Capitol Rotunda, only the 33rd person to have been so honored in our history. No question he was a great American and well-deserved tributes will be offered about his life of service and sacrifice. To me though, it is what others might think of as a small deed, which endeared him to me and reveals what a genuinely great and caring American he was, and I would like to tell you about that.
My uncle, Lt. Joseph Orleck died in the line of duty when he went down with his ship, the USS NAUSET AT-89 in 1943 during the WWII invasion of Salerno after his ship had been struck from above by German bombing of the convoy. While this son of a Russian immigrant was honored by his nation with the naming of a mighty Gearing Class Destroyer, the USS ORLECK DD 886, that went onto serve our nation for thirty-seven years, he had not received a proper burial service.
Working with my brother, Donald Orleck, we learned that Lt. Orleck, World War II hero and namesake of USS ORLECK DD 886 was entitled to a full burial service at Arlington and so we went to work to accomplish that. As the event plans proceeded, we were able to accomplish a service at the Chapel at Arlington, followed by a funeral procession and burial.
On September 10, 2004, a Memorial Service was held to dedicate a Remembrance Stone for Lt. Orleck. Under beautiful sky the Memorial Service was flawlessly executed at Ft. Myer Chapel with World War II hero, Senator Bob Dole, as the guest speaker and Joseph Correia, the Chaplain of USS ORLECK. A one-mile procession behind the six white horse drawn caisson, marching troops, and Navy Band to the site of Lt. Orleck’s stone followed by a 21-gun salute, taps, honor guard and presentation of the flag and messages from dignitaries to the next of kin, Donald Orleck, nephew of Lt. Orleck. This event filled a long overdue event to establish and dedicate a place of resting honor for this true American Hero.
How did it come about that Bob Dole was the keynote speaker at this solemn event? We needed a speaker worthy of the occasion. Lt. Orleck lived in Winston Salem, North Carolina with his wife Gertha when he got his first command that took him away from there forever. I asked Elizabeth Dole to be the speaker at the Memorial Service since she was the serving US Senator from North Carolina, a great supporter of our military and I believed she might agree. As it turned out, she could not speak but I was contacted by her husband, Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who said he would really like to bring the speech to honor Joe Orleck, a man he never knew but admired. I was thrilled as you might imagine. This remarkably sought-after man was willing to take the time out of his busy life to do this honoring of an unlikely hero who came from a poor immigrant family to serve and die for his country. I have often pointed out that where else, but America could the son of a Russian immigrant receive such honor and recognition. Bob Dole has reenforced this reality.
One thing that Senator Dole did not know at the time, nor did we, was that USS ORLECK was deserving and finally did gain recognition as the most decorated American warship since WWII. She went on from her commissioning in 1945 to serve during the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Peacetime and with the Turkish Navy in Operation Desert Storm. Her four Battle Stars in Korea and fourteen in Vietnam made her the most decorated warship since WWII. Following her decommissioning in 1982, she was given to Turkey and served there for an additional sixteen years before being returned to the United States in 2000 in the hope of finding a permanent mooring as a historic ship museum. That goal has not yet been accomplished, however at present we are waiting for good news that such will be the case if she is determined to be seaworthy for towing to Jacksonville, Florida and we are waiting eagerly for that to be revealed this month.
We were fortunate to have a USS ORLECK sailor, Robert Michelson, who had an incredibly talented film maker son, Matt, who filmed the Arlington Memorial Service, and you can watch it here in an 8-minute professionally done video. Arlington 2004 Memorial Service for Lt. Joseph Orleck (1906-1943) – YouTube. Watching it reminds me of the funeral of President Ronald Reagan on a smaller scale. Only a small part of Senator Dole’s speech is presented on the video. You can read all his comments in the newsletter I produced in 2005 for this event and other matters. It is worth the read. Scuttlebutt-October-2005-Arlington-Memorial-Service001.pdf (ussorleck.com) In addition to this video, Matt did an incredible job the next day at the Navy Memorial in Washington DC, which captured the moment in a way that brought tears to onlookers, and you can watch that 10-minute video here. Navy Memorial Special Service for Lt. Joseph Orleck, USN. – YouTube
We have fond memories of those days, and we are so thankful that Senator Dole gave of his time to make them. For his life and his dedication to liberty, we give grateful thanks and heartfelt condolences to Elizabeth Dole and the entire Dole family. May God bless you all!