Howard and Ruth Rice were interviewed on September 5, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage Alaska. At the time of the interview, the Rice family was attending the conference "A Cold War, 2014 Alaska Conference and Nike Veterans Reunion" held in Anchorage, Alaska on September 4 and 5, 2014. In this first part of a two part interview, Howard and Ruth discuss their background, how they met and married, coming to Alaska, and his responsibilities as a platoon leader at a Nike Missile Site in Anchorage. Ruth also talks about being a military wife in Alaska, what life was like in Anchorage in the 1960s, and living through the 1964 Alaska Earthquake.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites
Date of Interview: Sep 5, 2014
Narrator(s): Howard Rice, Ruth Rice
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Personal backgrounds and early life
Meeting each other as teenagers
Staying in touch during college
Getting married and joining the Army
Assigned to Alaska
Being a platoon leader at Nike Site Summit
Becoming executive officer at the missile site
Effect of the Cuban Missile Crisis at Site Summit
Communication between the military wives
Being prepared at the Nike Missile site and importance of good training
Platoon leader job duties
Living off base
President Kennedy's assassination
Ruth's experience with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
Emergency evacuation plan and survival training
After effects at home of the earthquake
Howard's experience with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So today’s September 5, 2014. We’re in Anchorage and we’re with Ruth and Howard Rice, and thank you for coming in. I’m Leslie McCartney here with Karen Brewster, and again we really want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to tell us about your memories of being in Alaska with the Nike site. So, Howard, can we start with you? Maybe a little bit about where you were born and came from and how you came to be in the Army?
HOWARD RICE: Well, I was born in Ada, Oklahoma and as a -- just an aside the point, today I met the gentleman, Colonel --
KAREN BREWSTER: Joe Griffith.
HOWARD RICE: Joe Griffith. And he is also from Ada.
RUTH RICE: You’re kidding. No, you’re not kidding.
HOWARD RICE: No, I talked -- I met him and talked to him very briefly, just enough to acknowledge that. And thank him for talking to us. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: But my father was a World War II veteran and also a Korean War veteran.
And so I was essentially a military brat, although he had claimed to be just strictly a part-time soldier.
He was in the service at the time that I start -- went --graduated from high school. Fact he was in his first year as the PMS and T at the West Texas University.
RUTH RICE: You wanna explain? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes --
HOWARD RICE: Yes, he was the Professor of Military Science and Tactics for an ROTC unit located at West Texas University.
And I -- I started school in Abilene, Texas in 1941 when my father was at the military camp that was out there known as Camp Barkeley -- no longer exists.
And I went back there twelve years later for my senior year in Abilene. I didn’t go there and live there any time in between.
And fortunately one of the guys that I met there introduced me to Ruth. So that -- just okay, fine for right at first, but then she grew on me.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you met when you were teenagers?
HOWARD RICE: Yes. RUTH RICE: Yes.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And Ruth, were you from that town then?
RUTH RICE: I had started my first year in school in Abilene in 1942 ‘cause I was essentially a year younger than Howard.
And my father worked for a small retail automotive company and he got transferred about every two years, usually in March or April.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you never finished a school year. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUTH RICE: So I sort of traveled all around West Texas. And then he got transferred back to Abilene.
Let’s see, I would have been, what? In the seventh grade?
HOWARD RICE: Yeah, that’s right.
RUTH RICE: The end of the seventh grade, naturally.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you were twelve, thirteen years old, something like that?
RUTH RICE: Yeah. And then the company policy changed. They stopped transferring their store managers every two years. So essentially he was stuck in Abilene. And I hated the town with a passion.
I’m not quite sure why -- I’d never really liked any of the other places we lived, but that was okay. And the young man that Howard was referring to -- we were all sort of outcasts because we had not grown up in Abilene. And the -- Alan Morgan was the friend that Howard was referring to, was in the band, as I was, and all the girls thought he was so cool.
And he asked me out for a date. I dated, but very limited because I was extremely shy. And we decided -- you know -- I said, “You’re fine. I really don’t want to date you.” And he said, “Good.” But we absolutely became best friends. He’d come over at night and we’d sit out in his car and talk for hours -- drove my father insane. Then Alan said one day, “I really need for you do me a favor. Met this guy, just humor me and go on a date with him.”
“Come on, Alan, let’s -- I don’t want to do that.” And he said, “Yeah, you do.” So, okay. I did. And I thought, well, he’s okay. Certainly no winner. But then we just started dating. I knew he was gonna go off to the University of Oklahoma. I certainly wasn’t gonna do anything strange like that. I really wanted to go to the University of Texas. Then my father finally got another transfer. He was leaving, his father --
HOWARD RICE: My father -- my father, his tour there was over -- RUTH RICE: Over, and, essentially --
HOWARD RICE: And he was being forced out of the military because the cutbacks by Congress and so forth. And I was already off at the University of Oklahoma.
RUTH RICE: And I had decided -- I chickened out on the University of Texas. Didn’t think I could cut the grade. Although I was in the upper ten percent of my class.
So I was going to Hardin-Simmons. We had three church colleges there in Abilene, and there was Hardin-Simmons, which was Baptist; McMurry, which was Methodist; and Abilene Christian College, which was Church of Christ.
So, I obviously speak Baptist. Went to Hardin-Simmons. And was so bored. But it was a good thing because I got rid of a lot of basic courses there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you were what -- sixteen and seventeen when you met?
RUTH RICE: He was seventeen, I was --
HOWARD RICE: You were sixteen.
RUTH RICE: I was sixteen. And then, when he left I thought -- heck, I started dating, I might as well date. I’m not -- won’t ever see him again.
And he came back. That summer -- no, and then that’s when your folks knew that they were leaving and you came back at Christmas, just before Christmas, right? HOWARD RICE: Yeah.
RUTH RICE: And we decided we would get together and have one heck of a farewell party.
Yeah, and Alan had gone off to North Texas and he’d come home for the holidays. So, we had a real blast.
Told each other goodbye, we’ll write, keep in touch, thinking never would we do that. Well, lo and behold, he and I started writing.
Then the next summer you what? Got the job in Dallas?
HOWARD RICE: That was two -- two summers --
RUTH RICE: Two summers later.
HOWARD RICE: But I came back --
KAREN BREWSTER: So, Howard, you went off to Oklahoma?
RUTH RICE: University of Oklahoma. HOWARD RICE: University of Oklahoma.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: What were you studying there?
HOWARD RICE: I was electrical engineering. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.
HOWARD RICE: And also a member of the ROTC. RUTH RICE: Naturally.
HOWARD RICE: Back in the -- remember, that was back in the days when we had a draft.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so what year are we talking about?
HOWARD RICE: Oh, this was -- I graduated from high school in 1953. And she graduated in ’54. RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: And I went off to the University of Oklahoma. Really weird, because my father was on active duty, I went to three different high schools -- one each year for the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades.
The ninth and the eleventh I was in Oklahoma. The tenth I was in Louisiana. And then, of course, the twelfth back in Texas.
I had Texas civics, Louisiana civics, and Oklahoma civics ‘cause that was the way the grades came out for the years I was there.
And I had dated some there at OU, but I came back one Easter. It was the Easter before my parents left, I guess. This was after Alan had gone off, after the Christmas blast.
And when I went back to that, I met -- Ruth and I dated over that weekend.
Went back and had another date, and I kept thinking and almost calling this other person by Ruth’s name.
So I decided that I’d better write and see if she was really interested in making a little more commitment to each other -- not much, but just to see how things would work out.
And lo and behold, she was. So from there, history took time, because we had to wait until she got outta school.
And because of ROTC and the additional hours and everything that were required for engineers, why, I had -- it was going to be at least five years to get a degree.
And as it turned out it was six, in part because of Ruth. Because I kept running off to see her.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Instead of doing your homework on the weekends. HOWARD RICE: Yeah.
RUTH RICE: Apparently he was daydreaming a lot, also.
KAREN BREWSTER: You were a distraction. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: But anyway, after she graduated -- that summer I was working as a student engineer at -- for a company in Dallas, and after I quit there -- that gave me the money to get ahead enough and we were married in September of ’57.
I finished up the school and was commissioned in the -- as required in the -- at that time -- the artillery. Air defense artillery and field artillery had been combined in about ’55 into one big artillery.
Again, this was a people-saver move for -- for the Department of the Army staff. They cut down one personnel management group.
KAREN BREWSTER: So this is artillery in the Army?
RUTH RICE: Right. HOWARD RICE: Yes.
RUTH RICE: The branch of service for the Army.
HOWARD RICE: The branch of the Army. And then I graduated. I got my orders.
I’d put in a request to go to Fort Sill, which is in Oklahoma, and to get two years of active duty, intending then to get out and become a civilian engineer.
And because -- oh, and in high school, my father had found out about the Texas politics in the draft program. So he advised me to join the National Guard.
So at the age of seventeen and a half I joined the Texas National Guard, and then I transferred to the Oklahoma National Guard when I lived up there.
And this kept the Abilene Draft Board from grabbing me the minute I turned eighteen, which is what they were doing for the ones who weren’t part of the “in” families of Abilene.
So anyway, I put in for the two years. I ended with six months and going to Fort Bliss instead of Fort Sill, which was where my parents were -- the same town that, you know, that -- it’s ninety miles down the road rather than the three hundred and fifty miles and in another state.
Well anyway, while I was there I started putting out the feelers. And they’d had a minor recession and all of a sudden the electrical engineers were not getting the good jobs that they had been getting up until that point.
It was just one of those times when everybody had jumped into that branch of engineering and it --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Too many people in the field?
HOWARD RICE: Too many people, so it’s the same thing that the kids now are running into in a lot of -- a lot of career fields.
But anyway, I got down there. Then with my National Guard experience, my pay and allowances was -- turned out to be more than what this one company offered me.
RUTH RICE: Actually, that was a --
HOWARD RICE: It turned out to be a mistake on their part.
RUTH RICE: They made a typographical error.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: In your favor.
RUTH RICE: Well, not in our favor. It was like, you have got to be kidding, and you know --
HOWARD RICE: They reversed two digits. The hundreds and the tens digits in their offer.
KAREN BREWSTER: So -- but then this was the Army’s offer to you?
HOWARD RICE: No, this was -- RUTH RICE: A private company. HOWARD RICE: A private company. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
HOWARD RICE: When I was getting ready to leave active duty.
RUTH RICE: Fortune 500. HOWARD RICE: Yeah. RUTH RICE: Still is.
HOWARD RICE: But anyways, I --
KAREN BREWSTER: So you chose the Army ‘cause they would pay you? HOWARD RICE: I chose the Army because -- RUTH RICE: Yeah, well at least --
HOWARD RICE: And I had a good background for it. My father had done -- he ended up with a total of thirteen years of active military, and -- of course with his Reserve time, of course, he would be entitled to military retirement at age -- Reserve retirement -- at age sixty.
So I signed up for it and ended up with a unit in Fort Bliss for a couple years.
And then the initial orders, I was to go to Germany. But due to one of the little hot --
RUTH RICE: Cuban Missile Crisis. HOWARD RICE: No, that was later, Ruth.
RUTH RICE: Was it? HOWARD RICE: It was after we got here. RUTH RICE: Oh, that’s right.
HOWARD RICE: There’d been one of the little dust-ups between the --
RUTH RICE: Oh, the Berlin --
HOWARD RICE: The Russians and the -- RUTH RICE: The Berlin Wall?
HOWARD RICE: I guess the Berlin Wall may have been part of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yes, yeah.
HOWARD RICE: And they had extended tours over there so they didn’t -- cancelled our orders. So then when my orders were re-issued, instead of going there I was assigned to Alaska.
RUTH RICE: And remember what you said? That you were -- there wasn’t any housing and I was going to have to stay back in the States.
And I looked at him and said, “I won’t be here when you get back.” So he decided that maybe -- that we could do this together.
HOWARD RICE: Was a good thing, because she got pregnant. RUTH RICE: Well, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So she had to come. LESLIE McCARTNEY: So she had to come.
RUTH RICE: No, well, I – that was probably one of the dumbest moves I did make, was because I went -- there I was, what? Six months pregnant before I ever got in to see a doctor.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because you were up here and there weren’t doctors?
RUTH RICE: Well, there were --
HOWARD RICE: Well, just the timing of everything. RUTH RICE: Just the timing of all.
HOWARD RICE: With the thirty days leave and then I had an additional little schooling that I had to go to. RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: So she -- all that time’s going on.
RUTH RICE: And Fort Bliss didn’t want to take me, because they weren’t going to get to follow me through, so they said, you know, when you get there, check in.
Well, when I got here, there was a waiting time to get in.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And this was 1962? HOWARD RICE: Yes. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: That you arrived?
RUTH RICE: Yeah. So it was not all that easy.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. Just a shortage of doctors there was here? RUTH RICE: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And was the Army population increasing at the same time, or --?
HOWARD RICE: Not really. RUTH RICE: No, I don’t remember that it being really increasing. But all of the doctors that the military gets are assigned to troop units.
HOWARD RICE: At that time they were.
RUTH RICE: The only doctors that were specifically assigned just to the general military population were OBN doctors.
Because that was what they did, and they were not -- they didn’t get that -- they didn’t draft that many of the obstetricians.
Because you never saw a pediatric doctor for your children. Every pediatrician was immediately sent to a troop unit, because the troops all came down with childhood diseases.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Because they didn’t have inoculations?
RUTH RICE: They were all seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years of age. You get a bunch of people that age together -- HOWARD RICE: They had --
RUTH RICE: They get chicken pox, mumps, measles --
HOWARD RICE: If you hadn’t had the disease, there was somebody in there that they were gonna give it to.
RUTH RICE: Yeah. And they had horrible colds, flus, so -- And they really needed pediatricians. I mean, my best pediatrician was the anesthesiologist. Seriously.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, Howard, I was gonna ask you about the training. You said you got some extra training before you came up here. What was that?
HOWARD RICE: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that.
RUTH RICE: He still can’t talk about it, even after fifty-plus year. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Can you tell us --
HOWARD RICE: The program is dead now, but it’s still classified.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, so can you say was it training in the electrical side, or was training in the being a military leader --
HOWARD RICE: No, I can’t say, I just can’t say anymore. RUTH RICE: He really –
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, I asked if it was training in being a leader or something. HOWARD RICE: No.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can you tell us kind of what you did in the weeks before you came up? Is that okay?
HOWARD RICE: Okay, since I was assigned to the air defense I, of course, went through the air defense officer basic course. And there you’re still general.
You get a touch of the launching area, the areas where the missiles are prepared and maintained, and then the fire control area also, and then just training overall in management at the platoon level.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you came up here you were coming up as an officer?
HOWARD RICE: Yes. RUTH RICE: Oh yes.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. And to work at a Nike site?
HOWARD RICE: I was already -- had already -- I was with my unit in Fort Bliss long enough where I was already a first lieutenant when I came up here.
And when I first got here I was assigned up to the Site Summit and to the fire control platoon.
That was the people on the top of the hill, the one where the radar towers were -- are.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you were the platoon leader then? HOWARD RICE: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
HOWARD RICE: And that being my first time on an active, ready-to-go-to-war site, I had to brush up on a lot of new regulations that had not applied to my previous units, so that kept me pretty busy the first couple of months to get all of that under my belt. And, that was interesting.
Then, when they started -- when all of the people who were up here who had been extended started rotating out, of course, that meant we moved up.
And I moved up to be the executive officer of the site. And that is mostly administrative. You have to take care of the troops that are not assigned directly to the fire control platoon or to the launcher platoon.
This includes the mess hall personnel, the company administration personnel, and any other support people that they have. And you also -- like here where we had a lot of civilian support for the communications, you have to act as the go-between with them for the -- on the site.
And that kept me busy through the -- first. Now, when I got up there first, we were a basic Nike Hercules. That meant we had a low-powered acquisition radar and a missile-tracking radar and a target-tracking radar. Well, that summer we went to -- were upgraded to an improved Hercules.
This meant that they added an additional high-powered acquisition radar, commonly referred to as a HIPAR. And in our particular case we got the one made by General Electric, which was the big dome, and it was really a really powerful radar. And that’s when they built the big radome up there. Then we also got a second target-tracking radar -- target-ranging radar is what it was referred to as -- which we put up a third tracking radar on the site and a new building for the other. Also, other improvements -- they had to add a third backup generator to the site because of the additional power requirements and some other -- just minor cosmetic things there.
And of course then -- now here all of our security bit, where everybody has to stop and get recognized off the visitor list or something before -- we’ve got all these civilians, contractor people, running around up on the area, so our poor security force is about to go crazy. And these civilian contractors, they weren’t paid until they got to the site -- they were only paid one way for their transportation time. So they didn’t like the idea of having to stop.
And we worked out a modified agreement where all we did for them was stop and count noses so we kept track of how many were actually on the site at any time. They got to where they just wanted to run on through that. Unbeknownst to me, unfortunately, the sergeant in charge of the security for the site -- well, I knew that he had some people that had missed the annual service practice on their weapons and they needed a familiarization on the shotgun.
Well, we had a nice little borrow pit up there that was off the site, and we had used it before for somebody who needed to qualify. Well, he arranged to get these people their qualifications there. It just so happened that they fired off the first round just as one of these contractor cars ran through there. Well, it stopped like that. You know, just the echo of the shotgun going off. But that solved that little problem for the whole rest of the time that we were up there.
RUTH RICE: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You couldn’t have planned it better. RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: Yeah, he was very good. He was an experienced security type. He had been in the war in Korea -- or, not during the war, but in Korea working with the security dogs and all of that.
And we had -- so it was good there.
Then later that year for -- this was when the Cuban Missile Crisis came up -- and that particular day the battery commander and I both had reason where we were gonna have to come off the site early. So instead of carpooling up with all the other officers, or senior NCOs that lived on base, why, we had each taken our car up. We were going up there, taking our time, checking out the road conditions since we were coming up on the fall months and the winter months, and making any notes that we needed to.
The poor lieutenant who was the duty officer up there, the fire control platoon leader and he was just going out of his mind. He called our quarters, of course, was told that we had left and were on the way. But we weren’t gettin’ there.
There was enough time had gone by to where we could. So he didn’t know whatever was going --
RUTH RICE: We really didn’t know --
HOWARD RICE: And he had no -- and, of course, what they had told anybody at that time was just the minimum. They had increased our alert status dramatically.
RUTH RICE: They also closed the post. You couldn’t get on, you couldn’t get off.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And did you know exactly what was going on, or did you just --
HOWARD RICE: No, we had no -- we had no idea, because all of this happened just right at the time of normal going to work for here in Alaska.
RUTH RICE: You wouldn’t remember, but back then Anchorage didn’t get -- we had a television station that operated, but all the network news was flown in on a reel and it didn’t arrive. The five o’clock news arrived here right around ten o’clock.
HOWARD RICE: Well, actually, it’s at least a two-hour delay.
RUTH RICE: Well, it was longer than two hours.
HOWARD RICE: And a lot, but the first -- the military alert networks had given the word so, but nothing had been said to anybody. It hadn’t been broken to any -- even in the States at that hour it hadn’t been made public.
KAREN BREWSTER: But the Nike site got word that -- go on hot status. This is something --? RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: The increase in our alert status.
RUTH RICE: It was a DEFCON, I can’t remember, DEFCON what? Two? One? HOWARD RICE: Yeah, yeah. RUTH RICE: Something like that.
HOWARD RICE: It was a definite jump in our alert status.
RUTH RICE: And thanks to the wives calling each other, which we were not supposed to talk about anything.
And the Army did check on us, and we always knew when they were checking on us. On the telephone you would hear this click.
We’d say hello and start talking and then it would be a click -- very obvious. And we’d say, oh.
The first one that recognized it would make something up -- a really outlandish statement about children or what have you.
That way, that was our cue that we knew that they were listening to us. And it irritated us no end, because we were not the enemy, least we didn’t think we were. Nor did we have loose lips.
KAREN BREWSTER: So were they checking to see whether your husbands had been telling you things?
RUTH RICE: Yes, absolutely.
HOWARD RICE: That was what they were -- that was the purpose. To see -- you know -- a lot of times with the married families, the wives have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
RUTH RICE: Oh, you always knew. HOWARD RICE: They might not know all the details, but they’d know in general what all was going on.
And if there’s an alert status or anything, they know because their husbands are not coming home in the normal schedule.
RUTH RICE: Right. And the party you were going to, or the happy hour you were going to attend to, or the babysitter you had arranged for that you no longer need. Now, I mean, we’re not stupid.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So was there a very tight, close network then of married women and children, then, Ruth?
RUTH RICE: Oh, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. RUTH RICE: Absolutely.
HOWARD RICE: The Army --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: You lived on base or off base? HOWARD RICE: What?
RUTH RICE: Whether you lived on base or off base, and we --
HOWARD RICE: The Army has had a sort of a motto that the Army looks after its own, period. And that includes the wives and the children.
RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: And to the best of their extent they will take care of -- they take care of the mission first, and then the families, and then we worry about everything else. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So getting back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, you were heightened in alert --
HOWARD RICE: And we -- it was interesting for a couple, three days, and of course by then we began to know what it was all about.
And eventually the alert statuses started dropping down, so we went back to normal training and maintenance and planning.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: But during that time was there a real heightened sense of fear that this really was the end? RUTH RICE: I don’t know that we --
HOWARD RICE: I don’t that it was a real fear. It was -- once we learned that the big thing was the missiles for Cuba, then okay, we’re just watching the back door to make sure that they don’t --
RUTH RICE: That the Russians aren’t going to sneak something in.
HOWARD RICE: You know, that that isn’t just a diversion. RUTH RICE: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: So at the Summit Site, did you feel this pressure that we might have to do something because we’re on high alert, is that --
HOWARD RICE: I can’t say it was really that. It was that, okay, we’ve been paid to maintain this stuff. Now let’s make sure that it’s all there and ready to go.
If we do need it, it’s that we can do our job. We can do the mission.
KAREN BREWSTER: You were trained to respond that way. HOWARD RICE: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
HOWARD RICE: That’s the reason for all the repetitive training -- is to get it to be to where when something happens, the training kicks in.
Because in other units in the Army, if you don’t have that training -- the automatic -- the training doesn’t kick in and just take over. That’s when you lose people.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they just want you on auto-pilot. You know exactly what to do, exactly the time and you just --
HOWARD RICE: Yeah, but not just as a robotron, but as a thinking entity that can respond to the situation, whatever develops.
KAREN BREWSTER: So can you talk about your job duties and responsibilities as a platoon leader, the first thing you did? Like, what was a typical day? What kind of things did you do?
HOWARD RICE: Mostly on that it was checking on -- making sure that the people were on duty, were doing their jobs -- and you do that mostly through the use of your platoon sergeants and everything.
If you’re a good officer, you depend on those people to keep you alert. Now you do get to try to know all your people. That’s part of it, is to know them and know how -- what they’re likely to do.
But it’s a team effort to make sure everybody is doing that. You try to execute a training schedule if that’s what is called for, or if you’re in maintenance mode for that week -- and we used to rotate the hot status between all the four sites -- the four fire units, ‘cause there were two fire units out at Site Point.
And then it’s keeping track of who’s scheduled for -- well, the NCOs took care of most of that part -- who’s scheduled to go on shots, who’s scheduled to do something specific -- human personnel management type functions.
But you just oversee all of it and make sure that it’s going and make sure that everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
It’s much like being a supervisor in a civilian, where you’re expected to keep track and make sure everybody that’s working for you is doing it.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: How many were in your -- how many then did you oversee or what, like was it a unit, or --
HOWARD RICE: That can vary from every site, because every site was -- no two sites were identical in most cases. It’s very seldom that -- for example, we had the high-powered acquisition radar.
C Battery had that -- got the high-powered acquisition radar. A Battery had the ABAR -- Alternate Battery Acquisition Radar, which was an entirely different set of electronics than what we had up there. And it required different numbers of people to maintain and to operate.
But there, probably on an average for a fire control it was about thirty to forty people.
Now, in the launcher platoon you had a lot of difference, and different units varied widely.
For example, the unit that I left in the United States, which -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis incidentally went to Florida. But they -- as a launcher platoon leader there, I had seventy-seven people.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
HOWARD RICE: I had a large -- you know, I had three sections, and then -- yeah, three sections -- and then I had a large maintenance and assembly crew in addition to a few other people. So -- no, I had four sections.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the platoon -- the group you left in the Lower 48 was a launcher platoon. Was that for missile site launching also?
HOWARD RICE: This was a unit that was at Fort Bliss and really it was a test unit.
We were looking at a concept of trying to be able to move Hercules.
RUTH RICE: Put it on a railroad car.
HOWARD RICE: We had -- our launchers were designed to be towed by a tractor-trailer. And we had a lot. Now the concept was --
RUTH RICE: I don’t think it ever took off, did it?
HOWARD RICE: It never -- it never really took off. It was too personnel intensive.
KAREN BREWSTER: But that gave you some experience before you came here?
HOWARD RICE: Oh, yeah. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: Yeah. And then of course I was only here in that role for about five, six months and then I had moved up to executive officer.
I was the senior -- of the three lieutenants in the unit, I was the senior, so I moved into the executive position.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now I was gonna say, in both those positions you had sort of a regular schedule and could come home every night. You weren’t -- HOWARD RICE: No. RUTH RICE: No, no.
HOWARD RICE: In the stateside unit, yes I could. Unless I was the battalion duty officer.
RUTH RICE: Right. Which didn’t come up that often, but up here that’s a whole different story.
HOWARD RICE: Yeah, up here you -- three of the weeks -- there were three lieutenants and for the hot-status week the battery commander usually took a turn.
But one of you is on twenty-four hours every -- then they give you a break on the weekends. We always took the entire weekend so that if -- we rotated around that way so that if I had this weekend, I would have the next two weekends off, or usually because --
RUTH RICE: Well, usually unless something happened.
HOWARD RICE: Unless something else was happening.
KAREN BREWSTER: So there were times where you were supposed to be at home but you got called back?
RUTH RICE: Yes.
HOWARD RICE: There would be times, yes, when that -- and the -- jumping forward to ’64, to the Great Earthquake time, that’s exactly what happened. I was on the way home when the earthquake hit. We were just about a third of the way down the mountain when that happened.
KAREN BREWSTER: And was home in town, here in Anchorage, or you lived on base? RUTH RICE: No.
HOWARD RICE: No, it was on the base. We --
KAREN BREWSTER: On Fort Richardson. RUTH RICE: 422D Beluga.
HOWARD RICE: We were on -- in the apartment for about six months, up on Government Hill. One of the old, big vertical apartment complexes up there, just to the right of the gate into Elmendorf.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So that was your off-base living.
HOWARD RICE: That was my off-base living time. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: And then in June, I think it was -- no, it was right after Robbie was born that -- RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: So it was probably July -- RUTH RICE: It was the end of June.
HOWARD RICE: End of June, first of July -- RUTH RICE: Right.
HOWARD RICE: That was moved on base.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then you lived on base the rest of the time?
HOWARD RICE: Right. RUTH RICE: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So I imagine you both have two different kinds of experiences of what happened when the earthquake hit because you weren’t home --
RUTH RICE: And you asked about the Cuban Missile --
LESLIE McCARTNEY: And so I wanted to know you’re --
RUTH RICE: Well, you were asking specifically about Kennedy’s assassination.
KAREN BREWSTER: Howard had mentioned that, also.
HOWARD RICE: Yeah, after -- I think it was November. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: Best I remember, November of ’64 -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yep.
HOWARD RICE: I was moved in a transfer, you know, moving people around. I was moved down to the headquarters battery, which was located on base, Fort Richardson, main post.
In fact, that building still exists. It’s different occupants -- RUTH RICE: It’s a different color.
HOWARD RICE: Different color, but from the front side it looked just exactly like it was. And the building number was the same, so that meant -- insured that it was.
RUTH RICE: Well, not necessarily.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, why don’t -- you started to tell us about the earthquake.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Let’s do that before we go to November of ’64. RUTH RICE: Oh, okay. HOWARD RICE: Okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: But before -- did you, Ruth, have something to say about the Cuban --
RUTH RICE: Well, actually you really need to go back to Kennedy’s assassination. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.
RUTH RICE: Because, you know, that happened and it was stunning. I mean paralyzing for the whole country.
And, of course, we couldn’t get any news. The film all came in later. We could pick up radio broadcast.
But the main thing was -- is that the guns started going off. Once an hour they would fire the cannon.
HOWARD RICE: After a death of a president or a vice-president.
RUTH RICE: And that goes on for twenty-four hours, around the clock. HOWARD RICE: Yeah, it used to be --
RUTH RICE: Well, all the adults were really devastated. Those guns would fire. I would start tearing up to cry.
A lot of the men would tear up. And the children picked up that cue.
They would hear -- it got to the point to where at Reveille, at night, they lowered the flag -- HOWARD RICE: Retreat.
RUTH RICE: Or Retreat. Or Reveille in the morning and then Retreat at night.
The kids’d hear those guns, they’d start crying.
Now, fast forward to the earthquake. It started out with this roar before the shaking hit. And I was next door with an Air Force captain’s wife and her five children, because Howard was going to go bowling that night.
Her husband -- ‘cause it’s Friday night, he was a pilot, he came in early -- he was going to the Officers’ Club for happy hour. And she and I are sitting there -- we drank coffee like it was, you know. Without coffee the world didn’t go ‘round.
Also it was snowing that afternoon. So you walked in -- well, we had snow on the ground. Anyway, you put shoes on to go outside. The minute you came inside you took your shoes off.
Sitting there, drinking our coffee. Robbie was, what? Twenty months old then. And I’m seven and half months pregnant.
Now, as small as I am, baby is all out in front of me. I’m extremely awkward.
But I’m not having to fix supper. Joanne’s not gonna have to fix supper for her five kids. They’re gonna have sandwiches, just cool it for the -- we were sitting there.
Robbie’s on the floor with the Leslie children and they’re playing with the baby, and this roar starts. Well, the two youngest Leslie children and Robbie dutifully -- because it’s a big noise -- they tuned up and started crying.
And Joanne and I are sitting there hanging on to cups of coffee and thinking, okay. So for the first ninety seconds we’re just sort of looking at each other and when the --
Les’s short wave radio that he had upstairs hit the floor -- by then I think the two oldest Leslie children, were in the kitchen holding the cabinet doors shut.
Because we were going -- we were on the long axis, so we got a -- we didn’t get as much of a jolt. It was more rolling across.
But it was right at the ninety-second point, because for whatever reason Joanne said she looked at her watch, thinking, you know, earthquakes don’t go on this long. I should start getting everybody out.
She looked over at me, and I guess I had gotten up at that point to get to Robbie to hold her.
And she said, “You were just blank.” And I was. I do not remember the last two minutes of that earthquake. I have no recollection.
And I had one brief recollection after we were in California in one of the shakes, and I thought, okay, maybe some more? And, no, it’s never come back. Whatever it was -- my way of dealing with it is just to get it --
KAREN BREWSTER: So did you end up getting outside?
RUTH RICE: No. She said, “I had five -- well, six -- kids and a pregnant woman who couldn’t really move, and I didn’t think I could get you up anyway.”
But we didn’t determine that for, oh, probably a couple of days that we slowly went back.
But we had emptied out the coffeepot. Pilots live on caffeine. Her husband came home. He’s really mad because the O Club out at Elmendorf is a mess.
Comes on and he says, “Where is the -- what happened to the goddamn coffee?” Well, we’d emptied it. And he said, “There is no power, ladies, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Then he turned and looked at me, and he said, “You. Get over to your quarters. Fill that bathtub up with water. Get every pot that you own and fill it with water.”
And I said why. And he said, “Don’t ask me why, just do it. The power plant is out and the water plant, I’m sure, is gone.” And it was.
So I started to pick Robbie up, and he said, “Leave her here. Just go and get it done now. You don’t have much time.” And we didn’t.
I got probably -- within forty-five minutes, there was no more clean water. And actually he wouldn’t let us use the water that we had. But we all had, what? At least --
HOWARD RICE: Well, we had a --
RUTH RICE: Four five-gallon water cans with water, which we were required to keep because we were going to carry our five-gallon water cans, plus two weeks’ worth of diapers, plus formula for five days -- at least five days.
And drive down to Whittier or drive down to Portage and then walk through the tunnel. Also carrying our children. To get to Whittier.
Because that was the only way we could be evacuated out in case of a nuclear war.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was your emergency evacuation plan?
RUTH RICE: That was what the Army said they were going to do to us. Now fortunately I had a Air Force major that gave our survival -- we had to go through survival classes.
You know, what were you doing to do in the case of an earthquake, in case of fire, in case of a nuclear -- it was supposed to be a nuclear war.
And when this major got through telling us what all we were going to do, and I’m thinking, you can’t do that. That’s not physically possible, even if you’re a normal build, which I wasn’t.
Oh, and we were supposed to have -- wear our husband’s Mickey Mouse boots, which --
KAREN BREWSTER: Bunny boots?
]RUTH RICE: Yeah. And I couldn’t wear my husband’s because my feet are longer than his. So I was doomed anyway. I figured I wasn’t going anyplace.
And when they threw all that other stuff, I thought, I don’t think anybody’s going to go walking through that tunnel. Not with all that garbage, they’re not.
But the major said, “Now, ladies, let me tell you something. Nobody’s coming in to get you. The Navy’s not, sure as hell not, sending a ship up here.
Air Force doesn’t have enough planes. Besides which, ground zero is where those two intersections run” -- meet, they cross.
He said, “Quite frankly, ladies, if that’s ground zero, you’re dead. You don’t really need to worry about it.”
Now, if you’re out driving down the highway and you run out of gas -- which if you do, you are really, really dumb and nobody should save -- waste the time on you.
But if your car breaks down, that might be another thing. But you should be, you know, we’ll tell you how to make a fire -- I don’t remember how to do that, but, you know, there were ways that you could do it.
And the supplies that you were always to carry in your car. Water, blankets, food.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: So was your house habitable then after the earthquake?
RUTH RICE: Oh yeah. I had a -- HOWARD RICE: There was --
RUTH RICE: I had a hole in the wall where the back door -- the lock on it -- banged. And I lost, let’s see. A bottle of shampoo broke.
HOWARD RICE: A bottle of Karo.
RUTH RICE: It cleared the bathtub, thank God. Because I could not have gotten that cleaned out. And it hit the floor upstairs. I ignored that.
And we only had the one bathroom, so that was probably a little dangerous to have ignored that. But I think I just threw a towel down on it and thought, I’ll worry about it later. Which was a good thing.
And then we lost Karo syrup downstairs, because we kept extra food in the basement.
And I had a cat. And washed diapers. But I hadn’t folded the diapers. I had just dropped them on the couch in the living room.
And the cat loved the warm diapers, and he was on the diapers when the earthquake hit. That cat peed like crazy on -- I mean, he was terrified.
‘Cause he was by himself, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, you know. And I was in a world of hurt right with that point.
And this was before you had disposable diapers. They didn’t exist. At least not up here. They may have been in the Lower 48, but not here.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, and Howard was at work. You were driving home?
RUTH RICE: He was driving home.
HOWARD RICE: No, I was riding home. I was -- RUTH RICE: No, you weren’t driving.
HOWARD RICE: I was carpooling with one of the warrant officers and one of the NCOs that had stayed late and was coming down.
And we had just come around the front point, the furthest out where the road was, to the valley side.
And we’re going around -- it was blowing snow. It was fairly whited out, but the road was still visible and everything.
And the first shakes -- it felt like we had a flat on the back. Just, you know, the car -- wiggled the car.
So the driver stopped. And I was on the right side, so I peeled out and I’m on the side away from the mountain.
And so instead of turning back with the car always in sight, I turned around the other way. And for a few seconds I found out what vertigo was, ‘cause there was no up, down, or anything.
Fortunately, I was turned around far enough to where I picked up the car and, of course, that settled that back down. I had a visual reference of something.
It wasn’t -- I thought, geez, that’s a pretty good shake.
We went on down the mountain, you know, never thought about it being the worst shake in the North American continent.
But went on down. As we got down to the valley -- down to the flats -- this car comes tearing up towards the mountain, says go back up into the mountains.
Anchorage is destroyed. He -- he was just in a total panic. RUTH RICE: Yeah.
HOWARD RICE: And, well, I could look down there and I see the steam rising from where the power plant had shut down safely on -- this was the power plant on Richardson, which was right straight dead ahead of us.
But the plant -- still see the smokestacks up and everything.
But this guy, when he saw he wasn’t gonna get anything out of us, why, he took on off. He was getting up into the mountains ‘cause there was a --
RUTH RICE: A tsunami coming. Or tidal wave -- HOWARD RICE: A tsunami.
RUTH RICE: They didn’t call them tsunamis then. They just said tidal wave.
HOWARD RICE: Yeah. Tidal wave coming. And so we went on down. By the time I got home, why, it was obvious that we'd had an earthquake.
RUTH RICE: Yeah, but you didn’t know until you walked in the door, dear.
By then I had already picked Robbie up and figured out that I could use -- we still had hot water, so I could heat some supper up for her.
I was going to have to feed her, no matter what. And, twenty months, formula -- you know. She was just drinking milk. So that part was okay. But I did need to heat up her strained food.
And I had one -- a little transistor radio. I mean, that was a novelty. And I -- obviously there’s no TV, and the radio -- I don’t think we even had a radio, did we?
HOWARD RICE: It was Les’s short-wave.
RUTH RICE: Short-wave was the only thing. And so I had thought, well, no TV, let’s see if the radio station come in here.
So I’m sitting down, trying to find a radio station and I finally found one. And the first thing out I picked up that was legible -- the JCPenney building has collapsed.
Now, JCPenney’s was a big, big deal, because there were no department stores in Anchorage in 1964. And everybody was ecstatic. I had gone down and actually bought clothes -- I didn’t have to order them from Sears.
And I just sat there, you know, just stunned. And I thought, son of a gun.
You know, this may be a real earthquake. ‘Cause Joanne and I, when we figured out that -- what this was -- I said, “You know, that was really pretty strong. I wonder what it’s like to be in a real earthquake like San Francisco.” And she said, “I don’t know.”
But we didn’t figure out that -- how bad it was until later that night after -- you know, when he came through the door and he said, “Are you okay?”
Said we had an earthquake and I said, “Howard, the JCPenney building has collapsed.”
And he turned around, because he was -- I think he thought he was still gonna go bowling. And he just stopped, turned around, dropped his -- you had an AWOL bag with you -- dropped that and reached over and picked up the phone, which, our phones on post worked.
We did not lose phones. And he called back up to B Battery to see -- and that’s when they told him about -- that A Battery was out. And he --
HOWARD RICE: Just a minute.