by Melissa LaScaleia
Myrtle Beach began as a sleepy little beach town, but it was only a matter of time before its relaxing, sandy shores drew more people. As a result of the growth, the city constructed an airport in 1939 that was named after their mayor, Dr. Wilford L. Harrelson.
The Harrelson Municipal Airport would prove to be an invaluable asset to our country in the ensuing years; initially the United States War Department needed the land and airstrip for both offensive as well as defensive military actions, to train pilots for the European theatre of World War II.
The government acquired an additional 6,000 acres, and formally established a base on the site on March 24, 1942, 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. 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. In 1943, the base was renamed the Myrtle Beach Army Air Field.
The famous Doolittle Raiders, heroes for their carrier-based attack on Tokyo in 1942, were stationed in Myrtle Beach for training prior to conducting the raid.
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.