Rescue at Sea

By Robert L. Orleck

On a dark and frightening night of 31 December 1942, a merchant ship, the S.S. LANCASTER, sent out her distress signals as she lay stranded on a reef off Point Hank at Casablanca, French Morocco. From the USS WAINWRIGHT that was in the vicinity air raid and general quarters were sounded. Enemy planes were attacking Casablanca and the skies were bright with the sight of search lights and firings from batteries on ships in the area.

“In spite of mountainous seas and exceptionally adverse weather, Ensign Orleck took charge of a motor whaleboat and crew of the U.S.S. WAINWRIGHT and successfully completed one trip to the stranded LANCASTER, bringing approximately twelve men to safety. Although his boat capsized during the second trip, he swam to another motor boat and continued directing rescue operations. As a result of his gallant action, twenty persons were saved.” Citation that accompanied the presenting of the NAVY AND MARINE CORPS MEDAL to Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph Orleck. (June 7, 1943)

We are all aware that Captain Orleck saw to it that all survivors from his command, the USS NAUSET, were transferred to rescue ships safely before he and his First Lieutenant went down with their ship. The fact that Joe Orleck was involved in sea rescues seemed to have permeated the feelings of the men of the ORLECK. A number of them talked as if Lieutenant was an active member of the ward room and involved himself in the daily operations of the ship. A dramatic rescue of three persons in January 1982 in the cold gale driven waters off of Tacoma, Washington exemplifies these feelings. The ship for some unknown reason was not able to get out at its scheduled time. Failure to leave at the appointed time would require it to change its course because of a small boat race that was also scheduled to begin. The delay was for about two hours when ORLECK got underway. As stated the Captain had to take a course that the ship would not otherwise have been on but for the failure of the ship to go. On this course the ORLECK came upon three persons adrift in the ocean with very little time left before they would have perished. Because of Lieutenant Orleck’s past actions at saving men at sea, the officers and crew of the ship talked as if he was responsible for this rescue.

During gale force winds, the Destroyer ORLECK under the command of Commander H.A. Torok came around Brown’s Point and Mark Wittenauer, the forward lookout, spotted the people in the water. They had been there for approximately 90 minutes and because of the cold water could not have lasted much longer. The individuals had had their 18 foot sailing craft capsized when hit by high gusts of wind. It happened to be the last boat out of a Tyee Marina sailing association race and therefore, it was unlikely that anyone would be realizing before it would be too late that they had been lost at sea. But for the fact that the ORLECK came along on an unscheduled course, these persons would have drowned.

What a fitting involvement for a ship that was about to be decommissioned. It was almost as if Joe was saying that although we will be parting, remember me.

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