A look into our city’s past role in defending the nation’s security and how we plan to celebrate it
My late grandfather served overseas in the army in World War II, three of my uncles served in the Vietnam War, and my younger brother currently serves in the U.S. Coast Guard. Thankfully, Grandpa Byers lived a long life after his service until he passed away in 2013, and my uncles and brother are alive and well today.
The upcoming Memorial Day federal holiday is all about looking back. Looking back to remember and honor those men and women who did die while serving in the U.S. armed forces to defend the freedom of our country and protect lives around the world.
It’s been a tradition since 1868. This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 29. And the City of Myrtle Beach is in the midst of strengthening its tribute to the city’s reputable history that is grounded at the former U.S. Air Force Base at Warbird Park.
Warbird Park proudly stands on the outskirts of The Market Common and the Myrtle Beach International Airport just west of Business 17 on land that was once an army airfield where soldiers trained. Just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, City Council agreed to sell the town’s new airport to the U.S. War Department for $3,500 to serve as the Myrtle Beach Aerial Gunnery and Bombing Range.
The Myrtle Beach Army Air Field was deactivated after the war, and the airport was returned to the City of Myrtle Beach in 1947. But, as the Cold War heated up in the mid-1950s, the city again gave the airport to the federal government, and the property became the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Its mission: to act as an essential defense line for our country, as threats to our national security have evolved over its 50-plus-year tenure, including as home to the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing.
I can only imagine Myrtle Beach back in that day, crawling with airmen in uniform from the base to the beach to the shag and dive bars along the boulevard. The Air Force base operated until March 1993, when it was turned back over to Myrtle Beach.
Today, the memorial Warbird Park is site of several old fighter planes: the A-10 Thunderbolt II, nicknamed “The Warthog,” providing air support for troops during Operation Desert Storm; the F-100 Super Sabre, which was tasked with locating and destroying North Vietnamese enemy air defenses in the Vietnam War; and the LTV A-7 Corsair II, initially in service with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and later adopted, with some modifications, by the U.S. Air Force.
Warbird Park is also home to a 9/11 Memorial, a beam from the North Tower of The World Trade Center, as well as a Wall of Service and Circle of Heroes, and will soon showcase a new World War II Memorial.
The city’s design plans for the new memorial include a 1,000-square-foot monument that’s tall enough to see from Business 17, featuring a plaza with the world’s seven continents engraved into the concrete, markers showing where all the world war battles took place, and a star marking Myrtle Beach to signify how our little town played a role in the war. The city also plans to have a black granite wall showcasing photos of the city’s contribution to the war, markers of the different battle groups that trained here in Myrtle Beach, a sculpture, and poems.
Light columns surrounding the plaza will represent each branch of the military.
At press time, construction was expected to begin on the World War II Memorial in March 2023, with plans to reveal it to the public on Veterans Day 2023. Warbird Park’s expansion plans also include adding more parking spaces and a trail system.
I look forward to exploring the park’s newest memorial when it opens and being reminded of how the Myrtle Beach name is forever inserted in the history of World War II. All three of my sons have visited Warbird Park with me in the past, pointing in awe up at the massive fighter planes mounted on cement and over at the planes taking off and landing next door at the active airport.
When you visit, there is no charge for admission to the park, and there are picnic tables placed under pleasant tree shade. For more info and updates, visit warbirdpark.com.