Good people in a good community is how Col. Edsel “Coupe” DeVille remembers his time as base commander at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
Reminiscing about the days when the base was operational still brings a smile to his face. He considers himself lucky to have only one exception to good memories from those days – Hurricane Hugo. But, even the darkness of that 1989 storm brings memories of how his men volunteered to help cleanup efforts in the area.
He was base commander for two years in Myrtle Beach before facing the idea of another move. Instead, he and his wife, Della, who goes by “Dee,” decided to stick around.
“When we were thinking about being reassigned, we said, ‘Man, we’re going to have to leave all these good friends, good people,’” DeVille said.
The alternative was going to another base and eventually moving back to Louisiana where both still have relatives.
“So, we stayed here and built this house,” he said of their home in The Lakes subdivision in the Surfside Beach area. “This is our first real home. Dee designed it. The paint color changed, but that’s it.”
Pat McCullough, former southeast regional manager for the Air Force Base Conversion Agency, remembers DeVille as a base commander who cared about both the base and its community.
“Coupe was a very colorful guy who pressed the limits of his authority as base commander – some say he went beyond the limits in a few cases,” McCullough said. “From what I saw, he had the best interests of the base and community as his priority.”
DeVille said Myrtle Beach was different than the other bases where he had been stationed.
“I was stationed I guess at over 14 different bases, but the relationship between the people from Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach and the base was just incredible,” he said. “Cooperation was just fantastic.”
The cooperation made living on the base that much nicer.
“It was fun just to go downtown,” DeVille said. “Whereas in some of the other bases, they’d look down their nose at you because you were military. Here it was different. People would come up and shake your hand, talk to you, thank you for shopping and thank you for having dinner at their restaurant. It was great.”
When DeVille became base commander, he said he was asked to be an honorary member of the Rotary Club.
“I had no idea what a Rotary was,” he said. “That’s how far removed I was.”
He did join and at age 74 is still a Rotarian.
DeVille said he misses the base being active, particularly the sound of the jet engines – which he calls “the sound of freedom” – but said he’s proud of the way it turned out.
DeVille was chairman of the initial base redevelopment committee created by the city of Myrtle Beach before then-Gov. Carroll Campbell created an authority to oversee redevelopment.
“I think if you would compare the initial redevelopment plan with the one the authority came up there would be a lot of similarities,” he said.
The plans both had a town center – the commercial district of what’s now The Market Common – at their core.
DeVille said that concept came from a need of centralization in Myrtle Beach, because things were so spread out it was difficult to identify downtown.
“We felt the town center was a unique idea because it would bring residents closer to the shopping, restaurants and not be so spread out,” he said. “With the possibility of developing the general aviation side [of the airport] and eventually expanding the commercial side we though we could prosper with the growth the town center would encourage.”
He still can visualize the set-up on the base despite the changes and knows exactly where his office was as well as the chapel where his second daughter, Mignon, was married. And he occasionally visits Warbird Park on the former base, where he says he likes to “give the Warthog a pat on the nose” and think about his 28 years of service.