|Myrtle Beach Air Force Base|
|Near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in United States|
On October 16, 1939, Myrtle Beach Town Council resolved that the community "is in dire need of a modern municipal airport". The town agreed to purchase 135 acres for $35 per acre from Myrtle Beach Farms, Inc., described as "a partnership between Simeon B. Chapin and the Burroughs brothers." Two weeks later the airport was named Harrelson Municipal Airport after Mayor W.L. Harrelson, a supporter of the project. Federal funds were used to build two runways. The Army Air Corps wanted to use the site for training pilots, and took over the airport in June 1940. For a short time it was used by 3d Observation Sq. 105th Observation Sq and 112th Observation Sq used the site during the next year. In September 1941 it was Distribution Point 1, Morris Field. On 21 November 1941, the United States Department of War acquired 6700 acres including the airport, and during World War II the formal establishment of a base took place on 24 March 1942, with the name Myrtle Beach General Bombing and Gunnery Range, with the units 3d AAF and later 519th Base HQ and Air Base Sq. A "wooden city" known as Splinter City included barracks, a hospital, offices and other facilities. Training was urgently needed and the base was used for this purpose six months after construction began. German prisoners of war were also kept here. On 8 November 1943, the 5000-acre base became Myrtle Beach Army Air Field. Units included 351st AAF, 136th AAF, and 317th AAF (later AF) Air Base Unit. After the war, uses of the base included recruiting and support activities. 114 buildings had gone up. The site was deactivated and returned to the city and became Myrtle Beach Municipal Airport 1 November 1947.
The city donated its airport and the United States Air Force took over 1 June 1954, and Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was activated 1 April 1956. Many of the older buildings were torn down as the base modernized. The first unit in 1955 was the 727th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. Other units were the 4434th Air Base Squadron (replaced by the 342nd Fighter-Day Wing), the 455th Fighter Day Group, and the 113th Tactical Fighter Wing, Det 1, 728th Tactical Control Squadron. From 1958 to 1993 the base was home to the 354th Fighter Day Wing/Tactical Fighter Wing. As of 1966, the base had only one squadron with others having been deployed. An agreement to use the base jointly for civilian and military operation began 19 July 1975, with Horry County Jetport using the northeast part of the base. The city of Myrtle Beach annexed the base 20 April 1977.
Units from the base participated in the Cold War, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Desert Storm. During the 1980s three of the squadrons were sent to Germany, England, Egypt, Korea, Hawaii, Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1990, the 354th was the first unit sent to Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The Myrtle Beach base used the A-10 Warthog jet, and Pat McCullough of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission said the Air Force considered the jet “limited to a low-threat environment”, while the Army believed it was "a very powerful close-air support asset." The Air Force chose to phase out the A-10, which led to the base's closing, but the Army wanted the A-10 to continue flying; the decision to keep the A-10 came after the decision had been made.
The base closed 31 March 1993.
The bases's closing was expected to mean losing over 5000 jobs, having 1500 homes to sell, 15 percent fewer students going to area schools, 20 percent unemployment, and $91 million lost in taxes and other revenues.
McCullough believed the earlier closing gave the base the best opportunity for reuse than would have been possible had the closing occurred later, during a recession.
Retired Air Force colonel Buddy Styers headed the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority starting in August 1995. The authority, started in 1994, soon began working with the city of Myrtle Beach and Design Works, L.C., to develop a master plan to take advantage of existing structures and create development not necessarily related to tourism.
For the first several years, the Myrtle Beach area received little help from the economic development conveyance program intended to help communities struggling after bases closed. Myrtle Beach was viewed as a prosperous tourist area. A Wall Street Journal article and a new vision for tourism-related development from Burroughs & Chapin helped the area replace the jobs lost. With the state providing revenue from alcohol taxes, and later a portion of taxes paid by federal employees at bases in the state, the authority made progress toward redevelopment of the base. Later, the federal government changed the rules for helping communities affected by base closings, and Myrtle Beach received what was needed. The state legislature also made it possible to issue $41 million in bonds using the base land as a tax increment financing district.
20 years after the closing, the 3937 acres that were once the base included more than 1200 homes, several parks and sports facilities, an American Red Cross headquarters, a Veterans Affairs clinic, International Technology and Aerospace Park (ITAP), new terminals at Myrtle Beach International Airport, and The Market Common, a retail complex. The Whispering Pines golf course went to the city of Myrtle Beach. AVX Corporation received land next to its existing plant for a research and development facility. Horry-Georgetown Technical College built a new campus. Crabtree Gymnasium includes a military museum. Warbird Park includes a Wall of Service on which anyone who served honorably from 1941 to 1993 could receive a granite nameplate.
20 years after the base closed, Styers no longer had a full-time job, but he still worked to spend $200,000 a year in federal grant money on improvements to the airport. A ramp and taxiway were being added at ITAP.
A $200,000 grant from the redevelopment authority will help to fund Thunderbolt Park, named for the A-10 Thunderbolts that flew at the base. A former base building at the Farrow Parkway location will be renovated, and the park will have a classroom. $1.2 million had been raised as of October 2017.
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