EASTOVER, S.C. – Happy birthday Swamp Fox!
Seventy-four years ago today, Harry S. Truman was president and Strom Thurmond had just been elected governor of South Carolina when the South Carolina Air National Guard was organized.
On Dec. 9, 1946, the SCANG’s first muster was held. Fourteen officers and 36 enlisted men reported for roll call that night. It was a long time in the making.
Thanks to South Carolina Adjutant General James C. Dozier’s foresight and drive, he pushed for the creation of the SCANG even though the nation had just prevailed in World War II and some believed that war and preparation were obsolete.
“I believe in preparedness,” Dozier recalled later. “I had my eye on Congaree Air Base for a long time. I recognized the need for a strong Air Guard and I was sure Congaree would be a good home for it.”
And so with no base, no plans, no pilots and no mechanics, Gen. Dozier set out to recruit the core nucleus that would build the South Carolina Air National Guard.
He didn’t have to look very far. Maj. Robert H. Morrell was the first officer signed up by Dozier. Morrell had grown up practically within sight of Congaree Air Base. Before World War II, Morrell served in the Marine Corps. During the war, he served with distinction as a fighter pilot.
Morrell was then joined by Lt. Col. Barnie B. McEntire Jr., another serious, dedicated flier who was to become the SCANG’s first commander, its first general officer, and the namesake of the present-day McEntire Joint National Guard Base.
“I’d been acquainted with Barnie McEntire and Bob Morrell, and their families, for a long time,” Dozier recollected. “I knew their military records during the war and their interest in aviation. So I was confident they had the background and experience we were looking for.”
It wasn’t exactly easy to encourage experienced, qualified Airmen to retain their skills and interest by enlisting in a brand new unit. Enticements were limited. The pay was low, and few men, who had recently returned home from war, were eager to sign up for something that would take them away from their home and families every month. It seems the only attraction for the SCANG was aviation. Fortunately for McEntire and Morrell, that proved to be enough to attract enough qualified people to allow the doors to open.
And so, on Dec. 9, 1946, 50 men mustered for the first SCANG roll call. The rest, as they say, is history.