By Melissa LaScaleia
This month, we recount the illustrious history of the 354th Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force, which was once stationed at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in the current day Market Common. The history of this particular Fighter Wing dates back to the beginning of the Second World War, and has a long and rather complex history. It was created on November 15, 1942 at Hamilton Army Field, in California, and initially stationed at several other bases around the United States for the first year. Pilots trained in P-39 fighter craft, and then, in 1943, they moved to England. They were the first group in the Air Force to use the newly developed P-51 Mustang fighter craft, before entering combat.
The 354th Fighter Wing flew intense fighter-bomber missions during part of WWII. The group distinguished itself with almost 600 victories, and earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
In 1946, the 354th was inactivated. Then, at the onset of the Cold War, the Air Force reinstated the unit as the 354th Fighter-Day Group, and stationed it at Myrtle Beach. In 1958, it was renamed the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing and had 84 officers, 3 warrant officers, and 911 enlisted men, several RF-80 aircraft, and one B-26. F-100s were later added.
The 354th Fighter Wing was very active in military service during a series of world crises in the twentieth century, and spent relatively little time in its home base of Myrtle Beach especially in the 60’s. Units deployed to West Germany in 1961 during the time of the Berlin Wall construction. They were also deployed to Alaska in 1963, due to their proximity to the Soviet Union. During the Dominican Republic Crisis in 1965, units were sent to assist with that crisis. Many units also deployed to South Vietnam and Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and afterwards. The 354th received the Presidential Unit Citation for service to their country for the years 1972-1973.
In 1977, the 354th replaced their aircraft with A-10s, and conducted routine missions and trainings until the Persian Gulf War. The 354th was one of the first units to deploy in 1990; during that conflict, they shone in the role of offering close air support.
Heroic actions have always been a part of the 354th. During the Persian Gulf War, Captain Paul Johnson and Captain Rand Goff, both of the 354th, rescued a Navy pilot 200 miles inside Iraq. Captain Johnson earned the Air Force Cross for his valor.
The unit returned to Myrtle Beach in 1991, and the Air Force base closed in 1993. The 354th became inactivated because of the closure, but in an effort to preserve the Air Force’s “most honored wings,” less than five months later, it was reinstated at Eielson Air Force Base, in Alaska. There it remains to this day, acting as a defense for the Northwest part of the country and serving in worldwide missions.