MYRTLE BEACH — Gen. Robert H. Reed’s calling in life is service.
He joined the U.S. Air Force as a teenager in 1946 and has been serving in some capacity or another ever since.
Reed is currently vice chairman of the Myrtle Beach Air Base Redevelopment Authority, the group that has been spearheading revitalization efforts at the former Air Force base since 1994.
His stint with the authority isn’t his first go-round in Myrtle Beach, or with the air base. In August 1976, Reed became the commander of the base and the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing after having served the year prior as its vice commander. He was in charge of the base until 1979.
His favorite part of that command?
“When I became commander, we were flying the A-7 [Corsair II] and then six months later we transitioned to the A-10,” Reed said. “So we got to learn to fly and operate the A-10s. We were the first operational wing of the A-10s in the Air Force, the proving ground, and I think we were successful.”
Besides getting to break in new aircraft, Reed has other fond memories of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
“We had a very successful wing and we always attained a top rating,” he said. “Myrtle Beach was always high on the list of bases in the Air Force that had the best appearance and great amenities.”
After Reed retired in 1988, he worked in Washington, D.C., for a while before he and his wife decided to return to Myrtle Beach. In 1993, he was introduced to then-Mayor Robert Grissom, who asked him to serve on the city’s Air Base Redevelopment Commission, a forerunner to the authority created in 1994 by an executive order of the governor’s office.
“Grissom asked me if I would be a city representative [on the authority] so I stayed on and have been on there ever since,” Reed said.
When he heard the base had been slated for closure, he responded the way you’d expect a soldier to. With practicality.
“Well, I was disappointed in the sense that Myrtle Beach is a very desirable place to be stationed. But the problem with Myrtle Beach when the Air Force was drawing down is that it’s only large enough to hold one wing of airplanes. It just became uneconomical in the drawdown to maintain the base. I was sorry to see it go but understood the economics of it.”
Practicality is just one of the general’s characteristics. Buddy Styers, executive director of the redevelopment authority, can think of a few more.
“He is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Styers said of Reed. “He is a true gentleman ... a polite and courteous guy.”
Styers first met Reed when they were both working in the Pentagon in 1983. “He was my boss’s boss,” Styers remembered. “I was surprised to see him when I applied for the job here [in Myrtle Beach], I think he was the third one I had the interview with.
“[Reed] always played a very strong leadership role, helping the authority stay on track with the development plan we had adopted,” Styers said. “One vivid memory I have is when we were negotiating with the airport to sell them about 400 acres of land adjacent to the airport and they had offered us $4 million when our asking price was $9 million. I proposed to the authority that we sell it to them for $5 million and we would expect payment over three years and if at the time it came due we were financially stable and didn’t need the money we’d forgive the rest of the payment. Gen. Reed just said ‘Mr. Chairman, I propose we sell it to them for the $4 million and move on.’ And that’s what we did.”
Stories of Reed’s leadership carried all the way back to his hometown in Martin County, Kentucky.
A few years ago he was invited back to his high school as a speaker and while he was there, the county chairman surprised him with the announcement that a stretch of highway was being renamed the Gen. Robert H. Reed Highway.
“It was an honor bestowed upon me, and that was a lot of fun,” Reed remembered with a chuckle.
Other honors Reed has earned include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
As the authority winds down – “we’ll remain in existence a few more months to disperse the small amount of money we have left to the airport” – Reed will still be serving his community through organizations like Rotary and the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts board of visitors. He runs a Rotary scholarship program for students who want to spend a year studying abroad on the graduate level.