Many Market Common residents live in the beautiful neighborhood, which straddles either side of Coventry Boulevard called Emmens Preserve. Did you know that it was named after the very first commander of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base? Robert Emmens is a very important part of Market Common History.
Colonel Robert Emmens was born in Medford, Oregon on June, 22 1914. After schooling in Oregon, he joined the United States Air Force, and became a pilot in 1938, assigned to the 17th Bomb Squadron.
Emmens was co-pilot for a B-25 aircraft on the Doolittle Raid, the famous counter-attack by the United States against Japan, for their bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. On April 18, 1942, Emmens’ plane successfully hit target in Japan, but made an emergency landing in a field in Russia, as the plane was consuming fuel much too quickly, preventing them from reaching their final destination in China. They were found by the Soviets, who despite not being at war with Japan, held them captive during those tense times. For 13 months they subsisted on the same diet as the rest of the Soviet people, black bread and cabbage, before they hatched an escape plan.
They were being held in Ashkhabad, near the Persian border, thousands of miles from Vladivostok, when they found a sympathetic Soviet officer. The man introduced them to an Afghani smuggler who supplied the officers with better food and other black market items. They paid the smuggler $250 (won in a poker game the night before the mission) to lead them to a British embassy in Iran. With the help of British diplomats in Mashhad, they made their way to India and got a flight to the United States.
The B-25 aircraft was kept by the Soviets, and was scrapped in the 1950’s.
After the war, Emmens served in Europe and Japan on Intelligence assignments. In June 1955, Colonel Emmens was assigned to supervise the construction efforts at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, which was newly being built. He later served as the commander of the 342nd Fighter-Day Wing, the first host unit at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, and later as vice-commander of the 354th Fighter-Day Wing, which replaced the 342nd as the base’s permanent host unit.
Colonel Emmens’ decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross; Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal Class A, 1st Grade; and the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure. After his retirement, Robert Emmens returned to his hometown in Oregon, and worked in the investment and real estate businesses.
To read last month’s history feature, click here!