Jun. 24, 2019

The Winyah Rescue Squad

I had an amazing afternoon that I want to tell you all about! I had the esteem pleasure of meeting some very extraordinary men (and wives) of a group that was once known as the Winyah Rescue Squad. Someone, no names mentioned (Ricky Martin), introduced the idea of writing about this amazing group of people and so I made several phone calls, passed the word around, and met with them at Hog Heaven for dinner.

When they were originally formed in 1969, they were called Civil Defense and Rescue. After several of the members (Ed Dingle, Johnny Cribb, Teddy Barrineau [deceased], and Larry Howard [deceased]) applied for a charter with the state, they were granted one in 1973 and the Winyah Rescue Squad was born.

Since then several members have passed through, making it their commitment to serve the county of Georgetown – most of them stayed in the squad until it was disbanded in the 90s, or at least until the sheriff’s department took it over in the mid-80s.

“I was with them for thirteen years until they were finally dissolved,” said Dannise McKenzie, who was sitting with David Harper. “The best diver on the team was Chris Baker – No matter what, Chris could always find a body, even if it were on the bottom.”

“We were a non-profit organization, but we still put our all into it,” David Harper shared. “And when I lost my leg, I thought that was it for me. I didn’t think I could do anything else for the team.”

Someone from behind shouted out, “We weren’t letting you retired that easy, David. You could still man the radio!”

Ken Morant recalled fondly, “It was a right of passage for most men. You joined when you were young, like eighteen, and you were taught commitment, responsibility, and you had to take it serious because people’s lives were in your hands. It was up to you to be apart of the team and to save lives; it wasn’t a game.”

“When we first started out, we had to use our own personal equipment,” Ed Dingle shared. “Someone (Georgetown City Planning) had donated a 21 foot whaler; a boat. That’s what we started with.”

Gene Baker was one of the main pilots who donated his personal plane, the fuel and his time whenever and where ever it was needed. Sonny Hutchinson who was with SLED, was also a pilot, and of course, the late David Hodge, who was lost at sea when his plane went down. Peter Thomas was also with him on that fateful day.

Each man played an important role on the Winyah Rescue Squad, be it pilot, diver, or search team; together, these thirty men took each mission to heart and each person was important to them. Their wives and other volunteers formed the Winyah Rescue Squad Auxiliary group and often cooked meals, aided where ever they could, and supported these brave men who put their own lives on the line to bring back our lost loved ones, dead or alive.

I asked the question, “Can you tell me a time that it was just a great day?”

Bill Blake and Gene Baker answered together. “Any time we brought someone home alive it was a great day.”

“A lot of these people were our friends – people we knew personally,” Gene added somberly.

At one point, Glenn Wilson, who was a captain on the team, asked the group, “Does anyone remember what was the one day no one wanted to get called? February 13th,” he reminded. “We lost five different people at five different times on that date, including Wright Skinner in 1988.”

I listened as the men shared stories with one another. Ken Morant laughed and asked if it were safe to tell the Strom Thurmond story now that he was gone… I didn’t ask about it. They knew the story and obviously, it was a fond memory of theirs that I didn’t want to exploit. However, the story of Kevin Morant’s dive at the pier is fair game.

Glenn Wilson was talking about how the squad was on the boat having a training day in Garden City when they noticed a bunch of women waving madly at them. Thinking there was something wrong, Kevin jumped in the water and swam to the pier to find out what had happened. The ladies, all bathing suit clad, were just trying to warn them there were sharks in the water.

Weldon Rollins snitched on Gene Baker. He and Bill Blake were laughing at a fond memory they had about hamburgers. Gene got roped into it hosting a get-together feeding everyone on the team hamburgers for dinner.

“It was easy,” explained Weldon Rollins as everyone around him laughed, “Gene is very forgetful so when we told his wife he invited us all over for hamburgers that night, it fell right in line with how he is. No questions asked.”

I spoke with Glenn Wilson a good bit. He had brought a scrapbook with clippings, awards, letters and so much. I, along with Scott Harper of GAB News, took a lot of pictures (please view the photo album I made. It can be found under the “photo album” tab on CrankyHag.Com).

I enjoyed this event as much as the Winyah Rescue Squad. Their stories provided me so much material to write about. Some of the stories were heartfelt, sad, enlightening, as well as so many hilarious ones – too many for me to share at one time.

In the end, they did add one more fond memory of this group. This one included me in it – this day, this amazing and exhilarating day. Thank you gentlemen:

Harold James, John Gainey (Alberta), Weldon Rollins, Joe Jordan, Gene Baker, Ricky Martin, Glenn Wilson, Bill Blake, David Harper, Dannise McKenzie, Dick Pangburn, Bobby Cordray (Sheryl), Johnny Cribb (Mary), Eddie Dingle (Jenny), Chris Baker, and Ken Morant