The Navy vessels assigned to the Assault Craft Unit ONE (ACU-1) detachment at Naval Reserve Center Orange are special in their own right. Called boats instead of ships because of their size and affectionately referred to as "Mike" boats by those who love them, the Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM-8) plays a vital role in the Navy's amphibious assault mission. The ACU-1 detachment in Orange is one of four detachments located around the country and operates two of the fourteen craft for which ACU-1 is responsible.
The United States Navy has long been associated with Orange, TX. In 1940, the Navy initiated what was to become a massive WWII shipbuilding program. This required the construction of a number of new shipyards. One of the locations selected for the new facilities was Orange, Texas. At the time, the Consolidated Western Steel Corp. was operating a small steel fabricating plant at the east end of Front Avenue. The Navy and Consolidated entered into a contract under which the Bureau of Ships would construct a shipyard adjacent to the existing CWS plant with Consolidated as the operator. It formed a subsidiary titled Consolidated Western Steel Corp., Shipbuilding Division, for that purpose. A combine known as Bechtel-McCone-Parsons was given a contract to build the facilities and construction began that year. The first unit of the yard was completed in 1941 and Consolidated immediately began work on the first ships.
The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the declaration of War by the United States upon Japan, Germany, and Italy greatly accelerated the pace of the Navy shipbuilding program. The yards at Orange were enlarged and employment there began climbing toward a peak of 20,000 workers. The first ship, USS Aulick, a Destroyer, was delivered in 1942. In all, the shipyards at Orange built 39 Destroyers, 93 Destroyer Escorts, and 106 landing craft, prior to the termination of the shipbuilding program in 1946.
With the war almost over, the Navy chose Orange as the location of a major post-war fleet berthing operation. This required the construction of a number of piers on the Sabine River, just north of the shipyards. This activity was known first as the Texas Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. In 1960, the name was changed to Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility. At the peak, about 250 mothballed vessels were stationed here. Forty of the ships were reactiviated during the Korean conflict. During the 1950's part of the original shipyard facilities were sold to U.S. Steel Corporation, American Bridge Division, now known as U.S. Steel-Fabrication.
In 1974, the Navy began phasing out the fleet berthing operation. By the latter part of that decade, all the ships were gone. Some were sold to foreign countries, some scraped, and the remainder are berthed at the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Beaumont, TX.
Of the remaining facilities, some were acquired by U.S. Steel, others turned over to Lamar University at Orange, and the remaining piers and adjacent land were sold to the Orange County Navigation and Port District. The 16.5 acres that remain in the Navy's hands are the site of the present Orange Naval Reserve Center.
A group of World War II era round-top metal buildings sit off to the side of the main entrance. The remnants of a much more active time, these buildings once buzzed with activity. And today, behind the worn and weathered metal walls things are still going on. Today, Naval Reservists drilling at Orange are working quietly and unheralded in these few remaining shops, providing the type of real-time support to the active Navy fleet that few, inside or outside of the Navy, know about. These shops are busy fabricating the type of components that are used in the engineering spaces on U. S. Navy supercarrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), and other U.S. aircraft carriers. With machinery, tools and skilled reservists to use them, NRC Orange has the ready capability to supplement the work of large shipyards and ship repair facilities - albeit on a much smaller scale. One recent project for fabricated base assemblies was used to support the USS Abraham Lincoln's steering system equipment. Another project called for the fabrication of 76 2-foot stainless steel panels called "combing" that was welded in place as oil containment barriers around the Lincoln's steering equipment.
The Mexican Navy logistics ship Rio Grijalve (A-03), a converted ex-USN Tank Landing Ship (LST 1095), is one of many former U.S. Navy ships that have found a second - or even third - life in the service of an allied navy. The Grijalve, a sister ship Rio Panuco, or sometimes the confiscated Swedish cargo ship Rio Lerma, take their shiploads of equipment back to Mexico to be used for repairing and building Mexican Navy ships. Coordinated and approved by the State Department, these port visits have economic benefit for Mexico and they are good for the local economy as well. Access to the NRC Orange pier and limited support services are provided by the reserve center staff, however most of the work is done by the Norfolk-Texas International Company (NORTEX), a contractor who prepares the cargo for transport and provides logistics support for the Mexican Navy ships.
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