Old friends and old memories at Myrtle Beach Air Base reunion

vgrooms@thesunnews.comApril 6, 2013 

— Brian Gallagher looked fondly at the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, took a few photos, then admired the aircraft again.

“I had to see the old Hog,” he said of the A-10, more commonly known as the Warthog, which sits at the center of Warbird Park on Farrow Parkway. “They were tank killers and had the biggest guns carried by air.”

Gallagher should know, as he was one of the aircraft mechanics who kept the A-10s flying out of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Stationed there from 1982-85, the Utah resident hadn’t been back to the area in more than 25 years, until he decided to make the trip back for Saturday’s Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Reunion.

The reunion was the brainchild of Rick Lab and Don Urban, both retired from the Air Force, who began their planning in July 2011. The event was the first effort to reach out to all military and civilian personnel who once served at the base and comes 20 years after its closing.

Check-in was held at the park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which gave visitors time to explore the property. Urban said 513 people had paid to attend the event, which was held at South Strand Recreation Center, beginning at 3 p.m. and continuing into the evening. On Sunday, those who want to participate also will attend the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ Military Appreciation Day to present the large American flag on the field during the National Anthem. A special video will be shown that commemorates the Air Force base.

Urban said there are no goodbyes in the military because eventually, you run into somebody you know. At the park, there already were groups of people who had found each other, and some, like Gallagher, were taken by surprise.

“I’ve already seen two people I worked with, right over there,” he said. “I want to see them all. I mean, how often does something like this happen?”

Robert Battle said he was also surprised at connecting with the past so quickly.

“That guy over there, we used to work here in the same office,” said Battle, who came to the base’s aircraft generation squadron in 1981 and never left the area. “I’d been wondering where he was.”

Ken Daniels of Sanford, N.C., and Frank Cockrum of Simpsonville met up for the reunion, although they found each other two years ago on the Internet and have visited the base before. The two served with the 355th tactical fighter squad at the base from 1966-68, then left together for Vietnam. The reunion gave them yet another opportunity to visit, meet people and continue exploring the base.

“We ride motorcycles, so we meet up halfway and ride down together,” Daniels said. “We’ve been trying to find some places where we used to hang out.”

That’s not as easy as it used to be, as the property around The Market Common continues to develop, but for Steve Halloway, the activity is a welcome sight to see. Stationed at the base from 1976-80, he now works at Sheppard Air Force Base, near Wichita Falls, Texas, and he had been back for a reunion in 2000.

“It was different then. The base had been shut down for seven years, and you’d see weeds in the sidewalks – it looked deserted,” Halloway said. “When I heard something about [The Market Common], I thought, ‘I have got to go see this.’ This place is made for people, and people should be here like it used to be.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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