Another memory to bite the dust

The U.S. Naval Reserve Center in Orange, Texas, will close in September 2008 as part of the most recent Base Realignment and Closure rounds. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, Texas, said he wished the center could be closed sooner to expedite transfer of the property for economic development in the Southeast Texas city bordering Louisiana.

“We would like to see the transfer of Orange Navy Reserve Center property occur tomorrow, but considering that some bases are still waiting for transfers a decade after they were officially closed, this is a pretty speedy timetable,” Brady said in a press release.

While you will get no argument from me that Orange needs some development, it is kind of sad to sounds taps for a facility with such a long history.

The Navy first established an Orange facility in 1940, according to the “Handbook of Texas Online.” A Navy base was set up there to oversee ship construction. Shipbuilding firms in Orange eventually turned out more than 300 ships during World War II. The first ship launched there was the destroyer U.S.S. Aulick (shown above), according to the Texas handbook.

After the war, the base on the Texas side of the Sabine River, became home to one of the Navy’s inactive ship facilities or so-called “mothball fleet.” Almost 200 ships over time at the Orange base were scrapped, turned into razor blades, or sold to foreign nations such as Turkey and Mexico.

The first Navy vessels I remember seeing were at the Orange base. That may have even, at least subconsciously, led to my enlisting in the Navy. Growing up in the sticks to the north of Orange, I recall riding by the Navy facility with my dad in the late 1960s and seeing genuine pieces of naval history including old four-stacker destroyers (destroyers with four smokestacks for non-squids.) When I used to sneak in underage at the clubs across the river in Vinton, La., such as the Texas Pelican Club, I would see Mexican sailors in their white uniforms enjoying liberty from what would be their ships being readied at the base.

Once a friend and I were about to drive home from the Pelican and this friend offered a couple of Mexican sailors a ride back to Orange. They spoke little English and we spoke no Espanol, but we managed to communicate. They seemed to be having a great time on the ride back, singing songs like “Cielito Lindo.” (“Ay, ay, ay, ay,/
Canta y no llores?/Porque cantando se alegran,/Cielito lindo, los corazones.”)

Eventually the ships were all gone but the base remained as a naval reserve facility. Some Mexican Navy ships were still making port calls in the late 1990s there when I worked for awhile in Orange.

These days, the concept of a Navy reserve station serving only local reservists is long past. Some reservists may fly from across the country for their weekend duties (if they aren’t on active duty because of the war). So no reason really exists for the military to maintain a Navy base in Orange. I only hope that the folks in Orange will do something meaningful to acknowledge and honor the Navy’s presence and one-time prominence there such as getting the Orange-manufactured tin can the U.S.S. Orleck back into ship shape. Call me a sentimental fool, or call me to dinner.

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