Forget the beach, golf or shopping -- nostalgia is what luredthis group to Myrtle Beach this week.
Sure, they'll check out all the usual Grand Strand offerings, but these
"Green Demons'' who were stationed at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base inthe 1970s are here to relive the good old days, check out how the base areahas changed -- it closed in 1993 -- and swap tales that get a little moreinteresting through the years as the storyteller embellishes the detailsthat time has forgotten.
"Most of it is `do you remember when ,''' said Rusty Heft, acaptain on the base from 1973-75 who now lives in Destin, Fla.
Nearly 100 members of the 356th tactical fighter squadron known as theGreen Demons and their Green Darlings wives have returned to their oldstomping ground this week, staying on the same spot where they used towork, but oh, how it's different. They are staying, shopping and eating atThe Market Common, which opened in 2008 on the former Air Force Base.They've come from all over the United States and as far away as Australia,and for most of them, this is their first time back in 20, 30 -- even 40years.
"When I came out and saw what they did to our old base, it kind of got tome,'' said Gary Wingo, who organized the reunion and brought it to MyrtleBeach. "I said, `Wow, this is great.'
"It's kind of amazing, actually [how Myrtle Beach has changed]. All thenew roads, new hotels and the number of golf courses is astounding.''
Military units from other bases routinely have reunions in the Myrtle Beacharea -- it's a small sliver of the offseason tourism business -- but it'snot as common for guys who were stationed in Myrtle Beach to have theirreunions here.
That could be slowly changing. As those who served in Myrtle Beach getolder, they are more likely to want to get together, especially in theplace where they served, said Danna Lilly, sales director at the MyrtleBeach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"We are just starting to see that happen,'' she said. ``It's not somethingwe have seen a lot of in the past, but we'll be seeing more movingforward.''
A big reunion for former Myrtle Beach military already is in the works fornext year to mark the 20th anniversary of the base closing. Any military orcivilian who ever worked at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base can attend theApril 6 reunion, which will include food, bands and other entertainmentlikely in the former NCO club.
About 200 folks have signed up, said Donny Urban, one of the locals whoused to serve on the base who is organizing the reunion.
"It's kind of like a nostalgic thing, get old friends to meet up again,''he said.
Catching up has been one of the highlights for the Green Demons this week,who on Tuesday evening checked out old photos and swapped stories -- mostof them eventually interrupted with a playful ``You know you can't believea word he says'' from a comrade to a visitor in the hospitality suiteoverlooking The Market Common.
"Every one of these guys -- we flew together,'' Heft said. ``There's alevel of trust, confidence, comradery. It's like you're brothers but in adifferent sense.''
Many of them -- instead of heading straight to the SkyWheel or some othergo-to attraction in Myrtle Beach -- were ready to find and check out theirformer base houses in what's now known as Seagate Village.
After a bit of trouble navigating the old neighborhood, Lucie Lee Lanoux,who lives in Montgomery, Ala., saw her family's old house -- and the smalltree she planted in the front yard still there, thriving -- though muchtaller now.
"You've heard of going down memory lane, well this was like `can'tremember lane,' '' she said of finding her house in the old neighborhood.
"But that magnolia tree is still there. I'm loving it.''
Several of the Green Demons said they were impressed that the former base-- unlike others that are never redeveloped -- has morphed into a shopping,dining, recreation and residential hub, and that signs and memorabiliasprinkled throughout the former base remind folks of its military history.
"To me, I think people who aren't in the military, they get a feel forwhat the military was like,'' Heft said.