Market Common’s role in Air Force history, from Vietnam to Desert Storm

Air Force Memories

Colonel Joseph S. Barton, former Squadron Commander of the 355 Tactical Fighter Squadron recalls life at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
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Colonel Joseph S. Barton, former Squadron Commander of the 355 Tactical Fighter Squadron recalls life at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

For five years, Joe Barton called the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base home.

What is now The Market Common was once filled with A-10 airplanes, bustling with pilots, engineers and maintenance crews.

“A lot of people today don’t realize this used to be an Air Force base,” Barton said. “Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was probably the best kept secret in the Air Force. It was a small base. It was mainly A-10s, A-7s. Not the fancy, sexy airplanes like the F-15, the F-16. A lot of the pilots didn’t like to fly the A-10s. The ones that did fly, loved it. Loved every minute of it. And so it’s just a nice place to be. It was secluded.”

Barton, a retired Colonel in the Air Force, flew A-10s and was deployed to Desert Storm, making up a small piece of history the former Air Force base has to offer.

In the 50s, Myrtle Beach donated land to the Air Force, which brought its first squadrons to the area around 1956. Before that, the land was home to one of the Boston Braves’ minor league baseball teams.

“It was a lot of things until basically the Cuban Missile Crisis and then all of a sudden the base was brought back with the F-100s and then, you know, they were deployed to Vietnam,” Barton said. “F-100s were replaced by A-7s and they were also deployed to Vietnam.

“After Vietnam everything was kind of quiet. We were pretty much involved in getting ready for Europe for the Cold War, a war we thought we might have to fight in Europe. So, turned out we didn’t have to, and then the A-10s were kind of put on the back burner, and then Desert Storm came along and so now the base had another mission. It’s been a long history for the base.”

But for Barton, the most important part of the base was keeping the A-10s in active service. Barton said that before Desert Storm the Air Force wanted to get rid of the airplanes.

“It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t sexy, it just wasn’t what the Air Force wanted,” Barton said.

Once the war hit, Barton was deployed to Desert Storm, where he was a deputy commander for the 355 Fighter Squadron. When the squadron was deployed, it took 24 A-10s with them.

Another squadron, the Panther Squadron, also took 24 A-10 planes with it.

“We went over there and our squadron ended up flying at night, which is something the A-10 was never designed to do,” Barton said. “We had to make up our own rules as we went along.”

“As a result, what we here at Myrtle Beach did and the A-10s from England Air Force Base in Louisiana did, proved to the Air Force that the A-10 was viable and that it had a mission and they needed to keep it. And that mission is still going on today over in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As a result, Barton said that the A-10 has been around between 20 and 25 years longer than the Air Force had originally planned.

The 354th Tactical Fighter Wing (pictured), the first operational A-10 unit, was based at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The base, operational since 1942 closed on March 31, 1993. The base is now home to The Market Common, one of the fastest growing communities in Myrtle Beach. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

The closing of the Air Force Base

During its time in Myrtle Beach, the base had a major economic impact, Barton said, because the city closed down after Labor Day.

The base closed in 1993 after the federal government completed a Socioeconomic Impact Analysis Study, causing the loss of about 5,100 jobs.

“When we were back during the Cold War days, the military was very large,” Barton said. “And then after the Cold War and everything was over we had to [scale down], there was more military than we thought we needed to do with at that time. And there were a lot of bases, a lot of infrastructure. And the smaller bases, which Myrtle Beach was, was one of the ones that had to go.”

After, the city debated with the county as to how the property should be used.

“It was about 10 years before things really began to get sorted out for Market Common and things like that,” Barton said. “And the city then decided, hey, we don’t want to lose what Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was for. So a group of people got together to try how best to decide how to do it. And all this was done just so people will understand and remember Myrtle Beach Air Force Base for what it was.”

In order to preserve the history, Barton, along with a group of veterans, worked to place plaques across The Market Common, showing where buildings used to stand and identifying still standing structures.

However, at least one piece of land on the former Air Base is special to Barton.

At Warbird Park on Farrow Parkway there are two airplanes, including Barton’s, the Dawg Hawg that he flew during Desert Storm.

“When they were getting ready to close the base they weren’t going to transfer it anywhere, it was going to go to the bone yard out in Arizona,” Barton said. “And someone decided we needed an airplane on a pedestal here at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, so that was the one that was chosen. So that’s the reason there’s a Georgia Bulldog on a South Carolina base.”

Barton said that during Desert Storm pilots were allowed to put “nose art” on the airplanes. He chose a Georgia Bulldog because he is a University of Georgia alum.

At the end of his time at the base, Barton was one of the last people to leave.

“It was kind of sad,” Barton said. “For the last year people had been leaving. All my friends were going and I’m still stuck here. But I still enjoyed it.

“All we did here at the beach with A-10s, and then to see it brought along and kept along with things like you see here and all the stuff throughout the base talking about what was there, yeah, it’s a great sense of pride. And, you know, the airplanes out front, they’re a lot of pride for me.”

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic