Memories of Myrtle Beach Air Force Base

04/05/2013 3:50 PM

04/05/2013 4:58 PM

The Sun News recently requested thoughts, memories and photographs from those who had been stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base prior to its closing in March 1993. Here are some of the responses:

DAVID GIBSON | I got to Myrtle Beach in January 1978 fresh off the bus from tech school. It was my first duty assignment and I knew a little about Myrtle Beach, so I was very excited. My father grew up near Georgetown -- what is now called the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve, where my grandfather was the caretaker. I had been to Myrtle Beach a couple of times but I was looking forward to living there and being close to some of my family as my grandfather was getting older.

I arrived at the base in January during a snow storm and all I thought was: I moved 2000 miles from Colorado to another state with snow? I was a little freaked out. Don Urban was one of my first supervisors and we served together for about two or three years. We were in Falcon Section (355th Tactical Fighter Squad) and both had the best job in the Air Force, crew chief of the A-10. At the time, the A-10 was the newest aircraft in the Air Force so I was again excited to be at the forefront of history.

Because our unit had brand new aircraft and had just started working with the Army for ground support, I got to travel a lot. As an 18-year-old kid, this was the best part the Air Force offered me and really the only thing I thought about except the influx of girls when the summer season of Myrtle Beach started. We traveled to Germany, Spain, Bermuda, Canada and all over the U.S. training and learning to use what would become the greatest ground support aircraft ever developed.

One of my better stories to my family and friends is how we used to go see Alabama at the bar down on the beach [The Bowery] and went to Halloween parties they played at the Holiday Inn Surfside Beach. They never believe that one.

MARK SMITH | I was an 18-year-old fresh out of basic training when I arrived at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in November 1978. I grew up in very rural southeast Ohio. Imagine my surprise when arriving in Myrtle Beach. It was deserted because it was offseason. I could drive anywhere in 5 to 10 minutes. Then April hit, the Canadians arrived and the city came to life. What a shock to a farm boy like me.

I was an aircraft crew chief (mechanic). I worked in Transient Alert. That is the shop that takes care of all the visiting aircraft that fly into the base that do not belong to the wing/base. We were always busy. Myrtle Beach was a favorite RON (remain over night) destination for pilots in all the services. I worked four days on, two days off -- mostly on afternoon shift. This gave me plenty of time to spend out around the area and on the beach. I would get up and go to the beach and lay in the sun till it was time to work. When I got off work, it was time to go out and have fun.

The city night life was awesome. We mainly hung out at Mother Fletcher’s for the cheap draft beer at happy hour -- it was a real hopping place, lots of tourists. I also remember going to the Bowery to listen to a group called Wild Country (they are better known as Alabama now). There was a small amusement park down by the beach near the boardwalk, and a water slide. A buddy of mine spent the day at the water slide and the concrete just tore our feet up. Sure was hard putting the combat boots on to work the next day. My favorite hangout became the Gaslight tavern.

I got to spend three wonderful years there at the entry to my adult life. I cherish the memories. I still have friends that I met when I was stationed there. But, alas, all good things must end. The Air Force sent me to Kunsan [Republic of Korea]. I think it was punishment for living the good life on the Grand Strand. After Korea I was transferred to the Virginia Beach area. It does not hold a candle to “The Beach”

PETE ELLSWORTH | I remember my couple years at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base back in the mid-1980s. The local area (Myrtle Beach and beyond) treated Air Force members well and in return, we supported the local community – especially in the winter when all the tourists were gone. I loved my winters at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base! Good weather and no crowds.

BILLY HOWARD | Some of the best times of my life, and some lifelong friends, and “brothers.” Fun times! We were all kids just starting out in life, and I would lay mine down for any one of them!

KENNETH ALAN HACK | Even though 99 percent of my memories are good, the 1 percent bad I remember was Hurricane Hugo. Ninety-five percent of the base was told to leave -- evacuate, but a few of us had to remain behind to hold down the fort if you will. Shelter in place. Scared? Yes! I spent those 12 hours with a special group of friends, supervisors and brothers that night, and to this day we still communicate daily/weekly. I will never forget when we all left the shelter in place and drove out the gate that morning. We were the first ones out the gate, not a soul on the streets. It truly looked like a war zone!

TROY BLUNK | I arrived there in September 1989, and I got the feeling that the local community tolerated the base and the military in general. Their economy is tourist-based so we played second fiddle when it came to the local businesses. All that changed when they announced the base closure. Suddenly we were their best friends. They even pressed to get the aircraft from Homestead AFB that was damaged in the hurricane [Hurricane Andrew] transferred to Myrtle Beach, which is funny. They complained about the noise before, yet they were willing to relocate F-16s which are a lot louder. I was there when the last aircraft left the base.

SANFORD T. BROWN | I arrived at Myrtle Beach AFB on June 6, 1984. I was 18 years old, just a small town boy from Kentucky. I had never even seen the ocean before! I grew up in the small town of Horse Cave. I started out as a packaging and crating specialist working for the Transportation Squadron, TMO Flight. I spent five years at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, the first of a 24-year career in the Air Force. Other than meeting my first wife and having my son born there, I would say the experience of meeting so many people from all over stands out. Of course, being a small town boy, I had a lot to earn about city life. My experiences with the civilians were great. I worked a part-time job at Oceanside Village as a security officer and living there in itself was a unique beach experience.

DENNIS STUEMPFLE | I was an airman at the 354th Tactical Hospital for almost four years (1967-70). I have fond memories of my time at the base and in South Carolina. So much so that I’m moving to North Carolina, about 30 minutes from Myrtle Beach, as soon as my house in New Jersey sells. We’re in the process of buying a lot.

DON OLLIS | I came to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base with the A-10 program in the Air Force’s Civil Service Air Force Engineering Technical Service (AFETS). I was the airplane general AFETS, or APG. I said APG stood for all-purpose genius. I started in A-10 as part of the test program at Edwards Air Force Base, then to the first training wing at Davis-Monthan in Tucson, Ariz. From there to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and the first A-10 fighter wing. I joined other AFETS here – engine, electronic, instruments, weapons, navigation – and our job was to be maintenance advisors and training instructors to the AF technicians. I had a career of 39 years and three months, military and civilian, with the last 13 years at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. My memories of the Myrtle Beach area are tied to the students I had in some of the MTE Classes, such as the engine run program. It was also interesting to watch the maintenance and operations personnel contribute to development of the A-10 Warthog. I retired in 1988 and still maintain a friendship with many of my ex-students and fellow technicians.

JANETTE POLK | I got stationed there in the 354th supply squad as my very first assignment in 1987. My husband got there a few weeks after me. We met working in the same office (bench stock) and were married in 1988. Our daughters were born at Grand Strand General in 1989 and 1990. I have photos of our first re-enlistment. Col. Sharpe was the wing commander, and since we were a married couple, re-enlisting at the same time (first re-enlistment for both of us), he did our re-enlistment ceremony. We did it on my birthday (Oct 31st). The base paper was all set to run the story -- even took pictures -- but then we got pushed out with news of what was going on in Desert Storm.

EDDIE JOHNSON | My grandfather, Edwin T. Harrell, was stationed there in 1974 and retired in 1987. He was retired from the Air Force and was there as a civil service worker. He loved his time at the base and at Myrtle Beach as well. He died in Myrtle Beach on July 15, 2005. My grandfather was lifelong military man. He served 14 months in a German POW camp in World War II and received the Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal among many other awards.

ERIC NEWSOM | I served my country at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base from June 1974 to December 1977. I was a medic working in the base hospital emergency room. We were well trained in emergency medicine and gave our best to everyone that came into the ER. Our priority was treating our well-deserved servicemen and women, but in true emergencies we allowed local ambulance companies to come to our base hospital. We treated everyone equally, whether military or civilians. I visited Myrtle Beach this past September and drove through the now-closed base. It was great seeing that the base hospital was still there. Even though I joined the Air Force when we were bringing home troops from Vietnam, I was still attached to a fighter squadron and was on alert to leave at any time to medically assist our fighter pilots. It was a learning and a growing-up experience for me. I would do it all over again and I stay in touch with a few friends from my time there.

DON URBAN | My first duty assignment out of Technical school was Myrtle Beach Air Force Base as an aircraft maintenance technician on the A-7D Corsair. I was 18 years old. I was assigned here in February 1973 about the time we had the big snow. I was teasing my family in Ohio on how I would be lounging on the beach down in South Carolina. Little did I know there were 12-plus inches of snow here on the ground.

As for our off-duty time after work, we would visit some of the local establishments -- the Hoppin Hutch Lounge and the Miscue Lounge to shoot pool and check out the local girls. When things were real boring we would cruise “Winks,” the local hang-out where they had curb service. They would actually serve beer to your car.

Winters were slow but during the summers we would go to the beach and cruise the boulevard and check out the amusement parks. I met my wife, Lisa, here in 1975. I worked with her dad out in the maintenance complex. I received orders to England in June of 1975. She came over there and we were married. We were very fortunate and we received orders back to the “The Beach” as it was known to most.

In 1977, we ushered in the A-10A and a new era was started. Here we stayed and raised our two children, Chris and Kim, in base housing. We went to church at the base chapel and did all the normal things a family at the beach would do. Other than me being on the road on temporary duty all the time the family had a pretty stable life. They never left. I went to Korea on a remote tour in 1982 for 13 months but came right back to “The Beach”. We bought a home outside of Conway in 1987 and have been there since.

When we found out the base was closing you could have knocked us over with a feather. This was home to us. I had six different permanent changes of stations in my 22 years in the Air Force and I was either coming to Myrtle Beach or leaving Myrtle Beach. The only other stateside assignment I had was at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C., and that was when Myrtle Beach shut down. But I had that sand in my shoes and I couldn’t shake it. So the family stayed here and I commuted to and from North Carolina on the weekends until I decided to retire in 1993, and we have been here since.

I have many fond memories of the base and what it used to be. Many things have changed but the memories will always remain. I sure do miss the old days, though.

JEFFERY POFF | Being at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base from January 1986 to October 1988 was the best time of my life. Not just being part of the Air Force, but building friendships that have and will last a lifetime. I was 20 years old when I got to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and was a bit shy, and I had very little confidence in myself. I soon learned that I had true friends there, and they helped me more than they will ever know. I had lost touch with them for about 24 years, and have recently reconnected with some of them.

There were so many places I spent time at while stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, I couldn’t begin to mention them all. I was always treated with the utmost respect by just about everyone I met. I believe that the base was part of the tourist attraction of Myrtle Beach. The tourists seemed to show a lot of interest in our base. I drove the bus for many, many base tours and it was always packed.

STEPHEN JONES | I was at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base from 1986-90. I was never stationed anywhere else where you felt as though this was home. The people always treated us well – you couldn’t find a restaurant that didn’t offer 10 percent off or a free drink for military. For a lot of us that were young, Myrtle Beach was where we grew and matured. Most of us younger guys with families had to work a second job in order to make ends meet and local businesses would hire you without a second thought.

The base itself was unlike any other in the fact that it felt like a small town. It was common for the base commander or wing commander to stop and carry on a conversation while walking through base housing. I never saw that at any other base I was stationed. Even to this day, I cannot drive through what once was Myrtle Beach Air Force Base without a lump forming in my throat and tears forming in my eyes. It was truly one of a kind.

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