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The WWII Memorial in Myrtle Beach’s Warbird Park

  By  Kathryn Hedgepath
world war 2 memorial at warbird park

New WWII Memorial Now Open

When the United States finally saw the end of World War II in 1945, it was President Harry S. Truman who was at the helm.  And it is his words that create the focal point of Myrtle Beach’s World War II Memorial in Warbird Park located at the entrance of the Market Common District on Kings Highway.

Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. 

They have earned our undying gratitude.  America will never forget their sacrifices.

That quote is engraved on the large granite central panel with an American flag and a bald eagle in the background.  Eight other panels flank that one in the middle.  Some depict scenes from historic WWII battles abroad such as Ruhr Pocket (April 1945, German Front), Hurtgen Forest (September to December 1944, Western Front), Nuremberg (April 1945, Germany), and the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941, Hawaii). 

There are iconic aircraft like the B-29 Superfortress, and the B-17 bomber featured in flight over foreign soil.  And there are photos taken here during the war, and a decade or so later when what had been a former United States Army Air Corps airfield was transformed into the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base from its dedication on December 7, 1956, until its closure on March 31st, 1993.  There is a war picture of a watchtower with a sign that says, “Myrtle Beach Army Air Field,” and one from more than a decade later of the front gate of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. 

wwII memorial

It just so happens that the former location of that front gate almost lines up perfectly with the current location of the World War II Memorial.  Longtime locals still use the term front gate (and conversely back gate where the Market Common District exit is on Highway 17 Bypass) when giving directions in that neck of the woods; much to the confusion of our visitors and newcomers who may not be aware that a military installation was ever here. 

The monument also includes aerial views of the runways, but it is difficult to determine when they were taken.  That’s because today’s runways at Myrtle Beach International (MYR) are the same that were created and later paved with the use of federal funds that were obtained by the town of Myrtle Beach in our pre-war years.  The federal government was preparing installations for the likely event of our country entering the war.  Myrtle Beach just wanted a municipal airport to support our burgeoning tourist industry.  We really didn’t set out to be a military town, but certainly benefited our nation proudly in that capacity for more than half a century. 

Another feature that was commissioned for the memorial is a bronze sculpture that is a little over eight feet tall called “Up, Up and Away.”  It depicts a P-47 Thunderbolt ascending into the heavens followed by a vapor trail that doubles as the base for the piece.  A foundry in Michigan was chosen to cast the work that is darker on the bottom and grows ever lighter the higher up your eyes go with the plane at the top covered in gold leaf. 

The visionary behind it is Indiana artist, Tuck Langland, whose work is seen around the country including several pieces on display at our own Brookgreen Gardens.  He described his inspiration for the sculpture to those at the City of Myrtle Beach responsible for its placement like this:

 “A young man, eager to join the war effort, is accepted into the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot and, after completing his flight training, he is given a P47 Thunderbolt for a solo flight. 

Tremendously excited, he revs it up and takes off, then pulls back on the stick and heads nearly straight up, spiraling as he goes, and unleashing 2,300 horsepower from an 18-cylinder engine, giving him a top speed of 440 miles per hour. 

As he zooms skyward, he is in the cockpit all alone, yelling with joy and maybe singing out loud into his mask the words of the Air Corps Hymn…

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder,

Climbing high, into the sun

Here they come, waiting to meet our thunder,

Okay boys, give ’em the gun.”

The journey to make Myrtle Beach’s World War II Memorial a reality began in May of 2022, when then city councilman, Dr. Phil Render, asked the City Staff to look into creating a memorial for the veterans of World War II.  Specifically, the task fell to the Infrastructure Projects Division under the leadership of Chris A. Miller, that department’s manager. 

According to him, the City put out an RFP, Request for Proposal, to designers in the area to submit their ideas of what a WWII memorial would look like.  The winning submission selected in November of 2022 was from DDC Engineering who are now part of the national company, Bolton & Menk (BMI).  They were hired to build the memorial based on their submission.  Within its content, it was highlighted that DDC had been previously hired by the City for such projects as the 9/11 Memorial in Warbird Park, that park’s parking lot, Plyler Park on the boardwalk, and in our historic Arts and Innovation District downtown.

The scope of their conceptual work to finalize a design fell into two categories.  There was the engineering aspect where they utilized available survey information and their sophisticated AutoCAD Civil 3D software to compile the accurate data that they would need at the specific site that had been chosen for the memorial. 

Then there was the more emotional aspect of the project where they met with Chris Miller and others at the City of Myrtle Beach along with veteran and military organizations and other identifiable stakeholders to incorporate their ideas and desires.  A public input meeting was held in January of 2023 at the Historic Train Depot to allow anyone interested to contribute their opinions as well. 

All contributions were considered and incorporated as much as possible to create, what DDC Engineers/BMI described as “a contemplative space that both honors the veterans that served our country during the World War II conflict and celebrates the role that the Myrtle Beach Army Airfield contributed to our security.” 

One of the most striking features is the plaza that is large enough to accommodate approximately 150 people when ceremonies are held there.  Taking up much of that space is an expansive map of the world with indicators of what took place at specific locations during the war. 

The person behind the memorial from the beginning, Dr. Phil Render, when interviewed by a local news affiliate, said, “This is a tribute to them [WWII veterans] that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren can come and see a map of the world where they fought these great engagements. We as a community just want to say thank you, and so generations to come can also come and say thank you.”

For the memorial’s dedication, a very special keynote speaker was selected.  He was former Myrtle Beach Mayor Bob Hirsh.  Not only was he a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps in WWII, but he was also a hero of the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944.  At the time of the Myrtle Beach World War II Memorial dedication, he was 100 years old. 

Kathryn Hedgepath

Myrtle Beach native, Kathryn Hedgepath, loves to share her hometown’s history with visitors and newcomers to the Grand Strand.  She is the creator and narrator of the Myrtle Beach History Trolley and Step-On Tours, and the author of the book, Myrtle Beach Movies, that tells the stories behind the motion pictures that were made or premiered in Myrtle Beach.  She has traveled in 40 countries on 6 continents and uses her experience to convey our local history through a world lens. Kathryn returned home from NYC in 2002 to marry her beloved husband, Jenks, after a career in television and publishing (and even worked in Space Shuttle Operations at NASA Headquarters in DC for a semester before starting grad school at Georgetown University).  Her first career job was as Personal Assistant to television icon and wildlife expert, Jim Fowler, of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom fame. Her dad, Myrtle Beach’s first veterinarian, arranged the job interview when Jim Fowler came to Myrtle Beach for a speaking appearance at a veterinary conference in 1991.