The Advent of Something Grand
by Melissa LaScaleia
In 1939, the Myrtle Beach Town Council voted that the City of Myrtle Beach needed a local airport, and subsequently purchased 135 acres of property to create one. At the time of the purchase, they paid $35 an acre.
The airport was constructed by the Works Progress Administration, and named the Harrelson Municipal Airport after the city’s mayor, Dr. Wilford L. Harrelson, a staunch supporter of the project.
In June of 1940, the United States War Department made an agreement with the City of Myrtle Beach to convert the municipal airport property for use by the military, to train pilots for the European theatre of World War II.
In 1941, the United States Department of War acquired additional land around the airport, totaling roughly 7000 acres. The government formally established a base on the site on March 24, 1942; it was called the Myrtle Beach General Bombing and Gunnery Range.
114 buildings were built on the premises, including barracks, a hospital, offices, and other facilities, as well as a compound to house German prisoners of war.
Six months after construction began, the military began training their pilots there. By November 1943, the base was renamed the Myrtle Beach Army Air Field. The 351st, 136th, and 317th Air Base Units; the 323rd and 391st Bombardment Groups; the 404th Fighter-Bomber Group; and the 304th Fighter Squadron were all stationed there.
The famous Doolittle Raiders, heroes for their carrier-based attack on Tokyo in 1942, were stationed in Myrtle Breach for training prior to conducting the raid. Lieutenant William G. Farrow, of Darlington, South Carolina, was stationed here; he was one of the raiders who was captured and executed by the Japanese. Farrow Street in the Market Common bears his name in his honor.
On November 1, 1947, after the conclusion of the war was solidified, the base was deactivated and returned to the city. After that, in addition to being a municipal airport, the city leased a portion of the property to a turkey farm. The Boston Braves baseball team, of Babe Ruth fame, also used the property as a training ground.
As the Cold War continued to intensify in the early 1950s, the city chose to donate the airport to the United States military, and the Air Force took over again on June 1, 1954. On April 1, 1956, they activated the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Much of what previously existed was torn down and modernized.
The first unit stationed at the new base was the 727th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. Additional units to spend time at Myrtle Beach included: the 4434th Air Base Squadron, the 342nd Fighter-Day Wing, the 455th Fighter Day Group, the 113th Tactical Fighter Wing, and the 728th Tactical Control Squadron.
During the years of 1958 – 1993, the base housed the legendary 354th Fighter Day Wing; this group went through several name changes over the years.
To be continued. Click here to read part 2.