By Robert L. Orleck
The decommissioning ceremony marks the retirement of a ship as a unit of the operating forces of the United States Navy. On 15 September 1945, when the order to commission this ship was given, a commissioning pennant was first hoisted to the forward truck. A pennant has flown there through 37 years of proud service. Today, when the commissioning pennant is hauled down for the final time, USS ORLECK (DD-886) will no longer be the responsibility of her commanding officer. Until this moment, he, along with the ship’s officers and men, had the responsibility of making and keeping her constantly ready for any service demanded by our country in peace or war.
The commissioning pennant is said to date from the 17th century, stemming from an incident between the warring Dutch and English Navies. In one particular engagement, Maarten Harpertszoon Troomp, the Dutch Admiral, hoisted a broom at his masthead to indicate his intention to sweep the English from the sea. The English Admiral then hoisted a horsewhip, indicating his intention to chastise the insolent Dutchman. Ever since that time, the narrow “coachwhip” pennant, symbolizing the original horsewhip has been the distinctive mark of a man-of-war. This tradition of so designating ships of war has been adopted by all nations.
The modern United States Navy commissioning pennant is blue at the hoist with a horizontal red and white stripe at the fly and varies in length with the size of the ship. At one time, there were thirteen white stars in the blue field representing the original states but in 1933, seven white stars became standard. It is a naval custom that when the commissioning pennant is hauled down for the last time, it be presented to the commanding officer
As stated above “The decommissioning ceremony marks the retirement of a ship as a unit of the operating forces of the Unites States Navy”. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines retirement as “Withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life.” When people work hard most of their life and survive to a certain age they generally retire. Some are honored for their years of service by a retirement party. They might get a watch. They do get a lot of warm words and good wishes from their fellow workers. The ceremony is usually an emotional one. It is hard to accept that they are ending their active working life. That they will not be in as close touch with those they worked with. In some cases it is a happy one, especially when it is learned of the wonderful plans the retiree has for the coming years. For some retirees, the retirement from their position means they can pursue other career and life goals. Many travel from time to time and some get to see the world. The future for such people is exciting for it holds new challenges and adventures. But for others retirement really means the end for them. Some have nothing to keep their life busy and they deteriorate. Many die within a short time after retirement. Put in terms of a retiring ship, some are recommissioned, others are dry-docked and still others are scrapped.
So too for a fighting ship. Some or all of those things described for a retiring person can apply to a ship. For those that survive battles and wars the inevitable decommissioning occurs. Gearing Class destroyers were built for a limited life of service of approximately 10-15 years. Some were lost at sea but most survived and outlived expectations but ultimately had to face decommissioning. Some were recommissioned to the service of other nations. A lucky few were preserved as museums. Many were scraped. What was to be USS ORLECK’s fate. It would not be appropriate to set her aside or scrap her. She was in great shape and that would be a waste. There were no openings for a museum. The United States Government decided to enter into a military lease with Turkey and she was in service there for 16 additional years. Captain Robert J. Terhune put it this way as to her decommissioning: “I recall the bittersweet feelings of the decommissioning ceremony, where the U.S. Crew marched off (a sad feeling), but the feeling of ‘hope for the future’ as the Turkish crew marched aboard. Thus the ship was not dying, she was gaining a new seaman’s hand.” Yes, USS ORLECK would live to serve again. She was like that retiring employee who moved from one job onto another. It is hard for fellow workers to say good-by as well and that same thing applies to a ship such as ORLECK. And I know the feelings expressed by the officers and men about Joe Orleck and the ship were real. She would be missed. After we returned to Vermont, we received a call from Tony Norris to tell us that the ORLECK got off that day for Turkey. He said it was customary for the a crewman to untie the ship but he wanted to do it this time.. He said he wanted to be the last one holding onto the rope before it was released. His voice seemed very emotional as he spoke of the fact that he was the last one to release the rope.
USS ORLECK was an exceptional ship and she deserved a fitting retirement party. She got one. She did get a lot of warm words and good wishes..Retirement ceremonies are usually emotional ones and this was no exception. There were tears that were shed by many. The Decommissioning/Transfer ceremony took place at 1000, 1 October 1982 at the Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Center pier, Tacoma, Washington. The participants were in Full Dress Blue, (sword and white gloves for officers). E-5 and below wore Jacket-style uniform with combination cover. E-7 wore white gloves. Speakers spoke from podiums positioned on the pier. Full military honors were afforded to the ceremony principals upon arrival. Honors were rendered by the quarterdeck watch and the principals were escorted to the Wardroom prior to the ceremony.
After the transfer, the ship was renamed TCG YUCETEPE (D 345) by the Turkish Government. In a letter to Melvin W. McLaughlin, Major, United States Marine Corps (Ret.), Eser Sahan, Captain, Turkish Navy states:
It is an honor to have the opportunity to address the former crew members of the TCG YUCETEPE (D-345), Ex USS ORLECK DD 886. TCG YUCETEPE is continuing to serve proudly and successfully in the Turkish Navy. I am sure she will have many more years in the Turkish Navy, serving in true Navy tradition to contribute to the world peace, to add up to those memorable years in her past. She will be remembered by her present and future crew members as fondly as she is remembered by each one of you.
Captain Sahan was correct when he said “she will have many more years in the Turkish Navy.” After 37 years of service in the United States Navy, the TCG YUCETEPE served Turkey another 16 years. At retirements the retiree hears warm words from those who care and know of their accomplishments. So too with the USS ORLECK. You can click transcript and read what happened that day. The quality of the taping was poor and the best that could be done was to catch the majority of the words. Even if not complete it tells the story of a great ship and her retirement party with officers, crew and other friends.