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Howard and Ruth Rice, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Howard and Ruth Rice on September 5, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage Alaska. In this second of a two part interview, Howard and Ruth continue their story about living through the 1964 Alaska Earthquake in Anchorage and the devastation that occurred at Site Point Nike Missile Site (A Battery A/4/43) Anchorage. Howard mentions the clam shells that protected the radar, and reflects back on the stress, responsibility, and routine while working at the Site Summit (B Battery B/4/43). He also discusses the rest of his military career after leaving Alaska, and how meaningful it is to be attending the Nike veterans reunion.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2014-18-08_PT.2

Project: Cold War in Alaska
Date of Interview: Sep 5, 2014
Narrator(s): Howard Rice, Ruth Rice
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Historical Commission, Alaska Humanities Forum, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1964 Alaska Earthquake

Earthquake damage at Nike Missile sites

The star on the hill above Anchorage

Making repairs after the earthquake

Effect of busy work schedule on the family

Re-entering magazine silos at Site Point after the earthquake

Dangerous conditions at Site Point

Knowledge of nuclear capability

Work rotations

Leaving Alaska

Family history of westward migration

Not staying in Alaska

Rest of military career

Retirement and being in the active reserves working on air defense gun

Stress and pressure of running a Nike Missile Site

Feeling responsible for the mission

Reflections on working at Nike site and on military career

Nike Missile Site reunions and returning to Anchorage

Changes in Anchorage since 1964

Radar clamshells

Changes in Anchorage

Effect of Alaska on their children

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


RUTH RICE: Probably, I’m thinking, at least twenty-fours before --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What the magnitude of the earthquake was.

RUTH RICE: What the -- at that time. I hadn’t really -- I don’t think I’d ever thought about how long it was.

But it was -- I’m sure it was at least weeks before I had any idea of how strong that was.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, Howard, you came home and you --

HOWARD RICE: I called and they told us that the -- of course, we knew that the power was out because we’d seen the -- RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: -- the smoke and every -- the steam rising from where all the safety vents and everything were to shut down the power system.

RUTH RICE: But that was -- which was really why we weren’t going to get any water because it took the steam plant, too. But the water treatment cracked.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: As you were driving down and you felt the earthquake, it didn’t dawn on you or you didn’t think, oh, I should get back up and see if everything’s okay? RUTH RICE: No.

HOWARD RICE: No, because we had little shakes all the time and nothing -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

HOWARD RICE: And on the side of the mountain it wasn’t all that bad. We were not on alluvial soil. We were on solid rock, but tied to the bedrock. Tied into that.

And, yeah, it moved and everything. But as soon as it quit shaking and everything, we thought, gee, that was pretty --

RUTH RICE: That was a good one.

HOWARD RICE: A good shock. We’ll probably get some aftershocks after that.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so then was Site Summit damaged at all?

HOWARD RICE: Yes, we had -- some of the missiles had sustained a little bit of damage. Nothing like out at Site Point. Site Point came awfully close to becoming a real disaster. An explosive-type disaster.

RUTH RICE: Which is why we finally -- they let us acknowledge that fact. HOWARD RICE: Yeah.

RUTH RICE: And I think that’s why I always assumed that they had lost those missiles out there, because of when he said that A Battery was out.

And we had lost contact with the Lower 48. At that point, it was sorta like, okay, "Houston, we may have a problem here". Except that was way before Houston.

KAREN BREWSTER: So Howard what was your role in all this, yeah?

HOWARD RICE: Well, actually it turned out to be just mainly being available to take care of the -- when I got back up to the site, of course, they -- the on-site duty crews and everything were fixing that. They had secured the missiles that --

Part of the launch is a yoke that supports the front of the missile. And it is a spring. It has a shear pin that holds it in place that shears, and the spring causes that to flop down when the missile is launched.

So it doesn’t -- you don’t tear out any of the belly of the missile. And those -- some of those had bent a little bit.

But that was -- the main thing up there other than all of our communications -- the microwave antennas -- a lot of them had shifted.

And, of course, with the shifting of the known datum points and everything, that meant the alignment, even those that were still working, was intermittent.

Now the -- so actually, as soon as we could get communications with the Air Defense Command Post, which was out on Fire Island at that time, we were put up in a much higher status to cover for the units that went down.

Charlie Battery had a little more than we did, from what I was told. But I never made it out to see the site, so it’s strictly hearsay.

But likewise at -- at Site Point. I had a -- I was hoping that Donald Dukes, who was out there -- was a -- would’ve been able to come up this time, but I understand he’s in very poor health, and Doris, also.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what was his role?

RUTH RICE: He was the battery commander, wasn’t he?

HOWARD RICE: He was the acting commander out at Site Point at that time. The commander had some medical problem and he was in and out of the hospital for that time.

I had been out at Site Point for about two, three months up to the first of March, or somewhere around there. And had -- then in another one of the typical shakeups where they moved people around just to not leave anybody in one job too long, I had gone back up to Site Summit.

So I was there for the earthquake. And that -- then we essentially were the Anchorage defense for a while. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Until they got things -- in fact, after we made sure everything on ours was perfectly okay, some of our maintenance people went down to help with the finishing up with the cleanup of Site Point.

That -- it was pretty much it.

One of the things that I thought about, about two months later was that -- why didn’t we turn on the star?

Everything was dark, and yet we had power. And we could’ve turned on the star.

RUTH RICE: Yeah, that would’ve made a huge difference, I think.

KAREN BREWSTER: Why don’t you tell us more what that star is -- what you mean by the star?

HOWARD RICE: Well, I think everybody knows -- anybody who’s been here more than two or three years knows about the star on the side of Mount -- what’s the -- I forget the name of it, but on the side of the site.

KAREN BREWSTER: Up on the mountain outside Anchorage.

HOWARD RICE: On the mountain, on the side of the mountain. It started out as just a side -- just a small star on the top of one of the antenna buildings, but then it was later moved out to the site.

It’s over two hundred and fifty light bulbs that maintained that. At the time, it was turned on after Thanksgiving and went through the Christmas season. And generally sometime in mid or late January it would be turned off.

It depended upon the -- sort of when we felt like the season -- it had fulfilled its season.

RUTH RICE: And if you could get to it to turn it off or not, or something or ‘nother. There was something, some reason why you might be delayed.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But it never dawned on you to turn on the star for light. HOWARD RICE: No.

RUTH RICE: No. Didn’t dawn on anybody on the post, either, quite frankly.

KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe because it was March and it was more daylight.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, there was more daylight, but it was --

Now the battalion headquarters, because they had no power down here and the communications was iffy, they had of course dispersed some of the staff officers and everything around to the various sites.

I don’t know who went out -- if anybody went out to Site Point because it was -- RUTH RICE: No.

HOWARD RICE: I’m sure one of them -- somebody did. It may have been the acting battalion commander.

The commander at that time was -- the colonel in command had just been evacuated because of heart problems. So we had a major in command and so it probably was -- he may have gone up there. I don’t know.

But being just down at that level with the next level up, we had enough to think about on trying to make sure that we were --

and, of course, the earth had shifted enough to where our known datum point -- so that we could know that we were -- where we were aligned and that we were directly aligned with all the other sites so that if I designated a target on my radar, it would show up as somebody had designated a target on the other -- that one of the other sites had picked up that target.

You know, so that we didn’t waste missiles. If we had to -- could use ‘em. And that was all gone. And for a while we didn’t have any communications with Fire Island. That was one of the first things that we had to get done.

And something we could do relatively fast was get the civilian technicians out there and get the dishes realigned.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So being -- all of this work to be done, I can imagine that you were putting in more and more hours, which meant you and your family was left more alone.

RUTH RICE: Well, yeah, Howard -- as long as he was home, he dumped his dirty clothes out and was grabbing clean clothes, too. Because I don’t know how many pairs of shorts, socks you took, but you had it pretty well stuffed. Because you had no idea, and neither did I.

I knew he was going to go back up there.

And Joanne Leslie came running over as he’s going down our very long sidewalk. We had one of the quarters that had a big yard. Nobody had big yards, but we did.

And she’s hollering at him and he’s ignoring her. She comes in, and she says, “Where does he think he’s going?”

And I said, “A Battery is out. They don’t have any communication. He has to go back up.” “He can’t go back up. You’re seven and a half months pregnant.”

And I said, “I know.” “You’re gonna stay here by yourself?” And I said, “Uh -- yeah, where would you suggest I go?” I said, “You got five kids. I’m not moving in with you.”

And she looked at me. She said, “Don’t you even think about having that baby tonight.” And I said, “I don’t plan on having this baby for another six weeks.”

But we did have one captain’s wife that -- HOWARD RICE: That was a warrant officer.

RUTH RICE: A warrant officer’s wife who was due, and she did go into labor that night. And, took her out there. They had to evacuate the 5040th hospital.

And they carried the patients down the stairs because the elevators were totally out. And the only place -- the only building that was remotely usable were the nurses’ quarters.

So the babies that were born that night, and I think probably for the next week, were born -- they put together a table of some sort, or maybe by then they brought a delivery table over, but not that night -- I’m not sure how --

I think they just plopped her in a bed -- in one of the nurse’s beds -- and had at it. And she and the baby were put on a pallet on the floor in the nurses’ quarter. That was it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So Howard, how many days were you then gone away from home?

HOWARD RICE: Not that much. What we -- as soon as we were back on that, then we quickly tried to get back to where we were allowing the married people to go home and check on their families. RUTH RICE: Yep.

HOWARD RICE: But we still had to maintain the full bit. So, instead of the -- probably --

And quite frankly, we had enough people up there on the site and limited sleeping space, so there was -- we didn’t want anybody having to hot bunk, which we had to do the first couple nights just to have space.

RUTH RICE: We took -- was that -- was Leroy still there?

HOWARD RICE: No. That was Bob Barnard.

RUTH RICE: Okay. Yeah, because he -- you drove him up because I really wasn’t able to drive the car very well anyway by then.

And, so that -- we would -- not everybody wound up with their car up on the hill.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, we tried insofar as possible to always leave one or two cars down for, and -- I don’t remember Bob’s wife’s name.

KAREN BREWSTER: And now did you go out to Site Point and see what was going on out there?

HOWARD RICE: No, I didn’t, but I was able to talk with Don Dukes some afterwards, after it was all over, and some of the other warrants and so forth about that, and --

KAREN BREWSTER: And what they say? What did Dukes say?

HOWARD RICE: He was -- this was one of the -- something of a sore point, but after fifty years I think I can go ahead.

The award of the Meritorious Unit Commendation was for the unit. The first people to go into those magazine silos, according to what Don told me, were the blanket check people.

We had heater blankets on the boosters, to keep them warm, because -- you know, sufficient throughout the colder months, and they -- but we had to check them every two hours.

And so these -- here’s two young E-4s -- or an E-4 and a PFC. I’m not sure who -- but they’re draftees. They hadn’t been in two years yet.

And yet they went in there and did their job. The first thing they called in was the alert to get help down there, but then they started immediately trying to do emergency disarm on those missiles and to secure ‘em -- to keep ‘em from keeping anything else from happening.

And Don felt and I felt -- and I’m sure Don still feels that way, that those crews that -- the young enlisted men, not the experienced sergeants and so forth who came down --

Because that was right at the meal hour, so all the people who lived on the site, except the ones that were on the alert rosters like that, were up at the missiles and eating.

Now the launcher crew people were eating in their meal area that’s down there. They had a small kitchen and so forth. They’d bring down the regular Class-A rations already prepared down there and feed ‘em, you know, so they’d keep ‘em hot.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because they couldn’t leave the post.? RUTH RICE: Right.

HOWARD RICE: They couldn’t leave the -- they couldn’t leave. This was the security guards and everything. But these guys went in there, and I think there should have been individual awards, as well. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: For those people. And I felt that way then, and I still feel that way. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Even after fifty years.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can you explain the actual danger that they were truly in? RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: They -- they -- if any one of those rounds had had one additional fault -- if there’d been any spark or anything --

RUTH RICE: Anchorage would not exist.

HOWARD RICE: Anchorage airport would’ve been out of commission worse than it was. Because there would’ve been a big hole in the ground and debris scattered for miles around.

RUTH RICE: And Anchorage itself might not actually exist.

KAREN BREWSTER: So were the nuclear warheads themselves damaged? HOWARD RICE: No.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Would they have gone -- had there been an explosion, would they have been part of that or was it just the rocket fuel?

HOWARD RICE: No, the main thing that would’ve happened would’ve been the propellant fuels -- there’s all solid states, so it took an electrical spark of some sort to get that.

Then there was a sustainer motor on board the missiles. And then there was a lot of HE as a part of the warheads. RUTH RICE: HE is --

HOWARD RICE: High explosive that’s just like -- not TNT, but some of the other high explosives like you would use to break up, say, a block of ice that was too big to work your way through otherwise.

Or to break up concrete that you were trying to remove, if you -- you know, if you had -- or the type when they go to take down an old high-rise building.

But there was an awful lot of that. And if any one of those sustainer motors had kicked off and the arming lanyards between the booster and the sustainer motor were pulled because out there, some of the shear pins sheared.

So the rounds of this unstable on -- on the launcher. It was as near to a disaster as I ever wanted to come.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Ruth, were you aware at the time that there was actual nuclear warheads out there?

RUTH RICE: You assumed it.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You assumed it. It was never implicitly --?

RUTH RICE: Yeah, I mean, you -- you -- and it didn’t take -- you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know.

Because otherwise why are we spending all of this money and all -- for all these people up here? I mean, they aren’t just BB guns up here, guys. And the Russians aren’t going to sail up the bay.

HOWARD RICE: Well, we acknowledged -- the military acknowledged that the nuclear -- that the Nike Hercules system was nuclear capable.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And the general public knew this? RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah. That was acknowledged.

RUTH RICE: And Anchorage -- actually, I think the State of Alaska felt pretty damn good about it.

HOWARD RICE: But as to the numbers and what and everything like that, I still won’t discuss it even though I’m sure it’s probably been published somewhere. But I’m not gonna be the one that --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, we see clearly, Howard, you knew that there was nuclear material in all these sites because of your position.

HOWARD RICE: I knew that there was capable of it. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: That’s all that I will acknowledge. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so you -- because you knew, that fear of --

HOWARD RICE: Well, even that -- an HE, a high explosive warhead, non-nuclear, that thing is over six hundred pounds of high explosive, and it's --

RUTH RICE: You don’t really want it going off. This would make a horrible mess.

HOWARD RICE: And the destructive mechanism for that was that the shell casing was a bunch of hardened steel, quarter-inch -- or half-inch size pellets.

And those things are gonna be going out like crazy around there. And if one had gone off in one of the buildings, that whole building would have gone. The sympathetic nation would have --

KAREN BREWSTER: So did Donald Dukes talk to you about what he went through and what that experience was like?

HOWARD RICE: Not his personal experiences, other than just an overview. Because, well, we all knew what the potential was.

And it was -- I’m sure it was traumatic for him. In fact I talked to a gentleman -- another gentleman out there --

KAREN BREWSTER: I introduced you two, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes.

HOWARD RICE: This was one of the other Nike vets. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.

HOWARD RICE: That lived down close to where Don Dukes lives. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes, that’s who --


KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah that’s who I had -- I’m glad you guys talked to each other. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, and I told him what I had heard and I told him to be sure to tell Don and -- RUTH RICE: Doris.

HOWARD RICE: -- Doris, that Howard and Ruth said --

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s nice. But so you had mentioned that you had worked both at the Summit and at Site Point. Was that common that people moved around? RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah. It was because -- number one, you had rotations. You had people that would be promoted, and if there was a vacancy for someone of that specified grade, then they would be entitled to be moved to that location.

And it was -- it was usually a rather -- several moves would be involved at once.

Because when I left Summit, somebody else had to move back up there. When I came down to take headquarters battery.


HOWARD RICE: For the fifteen months -- that included the assassination of Kennedy.

But it was not unusual for people to move around. You normally didn’t move real frequently, other than if the unit was undergoing a major reorganization.

KAREN BREWSTER: And maybe there was more movement amongst the officers than enlisted men?

HOWARD RICE: In some cases, yes. Normally, the enlisted men -- unless you had a wholesale rotation out of a unit, then you might move enlisted men to other sites to balance out the experience level.

You needed to keep a few experienced people around at all the sites. You didn’t need to have one site loaded with fully experienced people and another one that’s --

RUTH RICE: Totally green.

HOWARD RICE: All green troops. That’d be like the same thing as -- even in the -- someplace like the banking world -- having all green tellers in one branch and all experienced tellers in another.

You’d want to move ‘em around, so that they can train the green ones.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it sounds like you were here during a very exciting time, as you said -- Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and the earthquake. You had a pretty exciting experience.

HOWARD RICE: Yes, I did. I think it was a very -- yes, it was exciting.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when did you leave then, Howard?

HOWARD RICE: We left in December of ’64. I got a thirty-day curtailment of the normal three year tour in order to get back to the States to attend the field artillery officer’s career course. Or, the artillery officer’s career course.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that was the next in your career path?

HOWARD RICE: Yes. That was the next thing in my career path.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. But you said before we started interviewing that you had fallen in love with Alaska.

HOWARD RICE: Oh yeah, we did.

RUTH RICE: Yeah. We really thought it was the neatest place in the world. Of course, I had grown up in Texas. He grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. And this -- grandparents had moved from the West -- (cell phone interrupts)

KAREN BREWSTER: You were talking about the --

RUTH RICE: My grandparents had all come from the Southern states after the Civil War. They literally -- there was nothing left there for them so they moved out West -- brand new territory.

And I think your grandparents were the same thing, except that -- from the Northern states instead of the Southern states.

HOWARD RICE: Well, my great-grandfather moved from -- after he was discharged from the Union Army and had buried three of his brothers moved out to Nebraska.

And then my grandfather, his son, came south to Oklahoma at the time of the land runs. So we had a history. And my other -- my father’s father had come from Tennessee.

RUTH RICE: After -- HOWARD RICE: After --

RUTH RICE: -- the Civil War. There was a lot of displacement after the Civil War was over.

HOWARD RICE: Yes. Always into the areas that were developing. RUTH RICE: Right.

HOWARD RICE: I think there must be a modified gene in there that they haven’t found or something, and the fact that neighbors looked after neighbors. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: My parents were married during the Great Recession -- Depression.

And the way that that little town that they were in survived was forming a barter system. My parents were schoolteachers. The schoolteachers still got their warrants even though the banks were closed.

They still got their warrants, but under the barter system they would turn that over to the local general store.

They could get the food and other stuff that they need, or that they weren’t growing. Particularly the flour and the salt and that stuff.

RUTH RICE: And oil.

HOWARD RICE: And oil. To feed themselves. And the stores would turn the -- use the warrants to turn in to get the supplies that they had to get from the distributors.

So that there in Oklahoma it was -- and people, everybody had gardens.

And if you had -- even though after my father moved -- got married -- they didn’t live with my father’s parents. But they still worked with the garden there and with the garden in the rooming house where they rented their -- their quarters.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you said you liked Alaska, but you didn’t stay.

RUTH RICE: No. Because we -- well, until he was out of service we went wherever he was assigned.

And when we knew that he was going to be forced out, it was like, okay, where do we wanna wind up?

KAREN BREWSTER: So 1964 you were not ready to retire? RUTH RICE: Oh, no. Oh no.

HOWARD RICE: Oh no. I was -- only had -- 1964, I’d only been on active duty for five years.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you had decided this was a career you wanted to continue.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, this was my career at that point.

RUTH RICE: That’s gonna be it, and I figured I could do it. I mean, he’d blown in my ear -- gonna follow him anywhere.

But when we started thinking about it, we were in our what -- then mid to -- ‘bout thirty-six, thirty-seven?

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, in our late thirties.

RUTH RICE: Late thirties. And thought, oh, it would be so neat to go back. I think that was our first thought, that we could come back, maybe homestead in Alaska.

And somewhere along the way, I think your father -- we just stopped and started thinking about your father’s heart condition. And your mother wasn’t --

KAREN BREWSTER: So you needed to be closer to family? RUTH RICE: Right. And then --

HOWARD RICE: And also -- then also -- to have -- by that time we knew that Sarah was handicapped.

RUTH RICE: Oh, yeah. Well, we’d known that for years.

HOWARD RICE: And that was gonna have to be something that we had to take into consideration. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. The social services.

RUTH RICE: Services, and we didn’t really think that Alaska was gonna have a lot. Which I didn’t doubt seriously that they did.

KAREN BREWSTER: So after your work here at the Nike site, did you work on other Nike sites in the Lower ’48? RUTH RICE: Oh, yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Oh yeah. After -- to finish out my active duty career -- or my career, really -- I went -- after the schooling, which was thirty-six weeks -- long school -- then I was assigned to a target acquisition battalion, a field artillery type battalion that served to try to find targets for the American field artillery to take out.

We had the early versions of the counter mortar radars and stuff that they could track projectiles and track back -- extrapolate back to where they came from so that you could put fire on those sites.

And I’d only been into that a little while when I was selected for another -- one of my other branch jobs -- in that I was made the -- selected to run the Data Reduction Center for Fort Bragg, where all of the maintenance data was collected and collated to be sent off for analyzing and figuring out how much --

Trying to figure out what repair parts and so forth the Army needed to buy to always have the repair parts available reasonably fast.

And from there I went to Vietnam for a year.

RUTH RICE: Yeah. We knew that one was coming.

HOWARD RICE: When that started kicking off -- they started moving units in there, it was only a matter of time.

And I spent a year in ‘Nam, again as essentially a troubleshooter with an ordnance -- or, combat service support activity.

Mainly chasing troubles with the artillery, combat vehicles, and other armament. Small arms in particular was one that gave us troubles.

And after I came back from that I was assigned to the San Francisco Defense where I became the -- well, because of the shortage of people I ended up as the intelligence officer, the operations officer, and the commissioned supply -- G-4 or logistics officer.

Fortunately, I had a very good CW-4 logistics specialist, and he took care of all the -- everything on that end. RUTH RICE: Oh, yeah.

HOWARD RICE: And I had a very good intel sergeant that could take care of most of that. so I was able to concentrate on just being the operations officer.

And incidentally, this is the -- this Nike museum is one of the -- now under one of the sites that I was operations officer for.

KAREN BREWSTER: Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

HOWARD RICE: Yes. We had -- two of our three sites were in what is now the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

And the third site is up near Hamilton Air Force Base, just a few miles up into Marin County. Up north of Marin County.

RUTH RICE: And I’d take Alaska over California any day of the week.

HOWARD RICE: Yes, I would, too. RUTH RICE: Absolutely. So -- it was okay.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: When did you finish up in the Army then, or in the military?

HOWARD RICE: It was -- from there I went to Korea for thirteen months in a field artillery assignment.

But by this time they had split the field artillery and the air defense artillery. And I went over thinking I was going to an air defense assignment, but got transferred in-country over to a field artillery assignment because they were critically short of majors and captains in the 7th Infantry Division.

So I ended up over there as the XO of a -- actually, I was with ‘em -- not a missile, but a rocket.

The Honest John rocket, which was one of the early -- very early -- field artillery missiles. It was an unguided.

You aimed it and it went to a ballistics trajectory to where you aimed it, and that was not gonna get -- you can imagine, it was not near the accuracy like we have today.

And from there I went back to Fort Bliss to the Army Combat -- the Air Defense Combat Developments Activity.

Where, as I said -- used to tell people I was paid to put my feet up on the desk and try to foresee what weapons we were going to need for the Army -- for the war after the one that was on the planning boards.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s challenging.

HOWARD RICE: Yes. And that’s where I was when I was --

RUTH RICE: When the RIF came through. Reduction-in-force.

HOWARD RICE: When the Army Air Defense Command went out of existence and they created another armored division for that, there was all of a sudden surplus of air defense officers.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What year was this, Howard?

HOWARD RICE: This was 19 -- well, it started in 1973. But it takes -- it took two years to implement, because you came up in the zone for promotion over two, three years.

And for the regular Army officers at that time, if you were passed over for promotion -- regular Army promotion -- not Army, the United States promotion -- two years in a row, you were out.

That was to keep everybody from getting into the level of their --

RUTH RICE: Own incompetence?

HOWARD RICE: Getting to the level of their own incompetence and just sitting there for years.

RUTH RICE: Which is not a bad thing.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then you retired in what year?

HOWARD RICE: Well, I went into the active reserve for that and I had a mobilization designation.

This meant I was not assigned to any particular unit, but I had in case of emergency I would go to work for a specific unit and place.

And in my case, that was -- happened to be the -- let’s see, the research development and acquisition part of the Department of the Army in the Pentagon.

So I did my two weeks of active duty every year in that.

And there I was again with the field artillery and air defense missiles.

RUTH RICE: Kept working in the same weapon systems for years and years and years.

HOWARD RICE: One of the projects that I had worked on -- the last projects I had worked on while I was on active duty was what they called the operation capabilities objectives for the division air defense gun.

This is foreseen as a gun to be available to the troops in the field for local air defense and to counter the close air support aircraft type.

After -- while that was bouncing around then I was forced out of the service, where I immediately took a reserve commission to preserve the time that I had, which was now over twenty years of active and reserve time. RUTH RICE: Right.

HOWARD RICE: Preserve that. And the mobe desk position that I was accepted into was again at the -- as I said -- at the Research Development and Acquisition Agency, which is -- it’s been many re-orgs since then.


HOWARD RICE: But one -- the first project I had the first time I went in there was to write the program memoranda -- or assist the active duty person writing the program memoranda for the division air defense gun.

The same one I’d written the operational capabilities.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. What goes around, comes around.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah. RUTH RICE: Yeah. And it did. And then it gets even better.

HOWARD RICE: Then it gets even better, because we hadn’t finished it all up by the time my two weeks was over.

So because I was working for a defense contractor that did not build hardware or anything -- we provided engineering management services to that -- they -- and it was for one of the projects that we had was the project manager for the division air defense gun.

Well, they went to the army general counsel and got a reading that that would not be a conflict of interest for me to -- for them to hire me through that, civilian, to come back in and finish up the program memoranda.

So on a Friday afternoon I walked out of the Pentagon as a -- finishing up my active duty time, wearing my uniform, and with already a civilian-level pass in my pocket so that when I came in on Monday morning wearing civvies I could get onto there where they took me down and got me my badge as a civilian contract employee for -- within the Pentagon.

And I stayed there for another three weeks before I --

RUTH RICE: Is that when I had to go in and pick up --

HOWARD RICE: Oh, and one of those -- yes. That was --

RUTH RICE: Okay. Okay -- see, I still had to provide support.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, one of the things that we had is, my boss in my civilian job, on one of these trips had picked up a model of the German version of the air defense gun, a Flakpanzer.

And he had it -- we had it -- shown there.

And we were looking at the -- Secretary of the Army liked to touch and feel at that time. So what I did -- I called back -- the boss agreed to that, but my wife had to -- went in to the office and got the package that they had prepared, took it out to the airport in Monmouth County, and shipped it down to us.

RUTH RICE: It rode in its --

HOWARD RICE: Own little package. RUTH RICE: Its own little package and its own little seat, all strapped in.

I thought, I really don’t believe this. HOWARD RICE: But --

RUTH RICE: I thought I was out of the Army. Guess what, guys -- not ever gonna be.

HOWARD RICE: But anyway, we took that in, and when the active duty person took that in with him to brief the Secretary of the Army and he not only -- he kept the model to show other people in the service there at the -- what could be done.

I think that was a selling point that did get the division air defense gun approved to go be manufactured.

Although, it never did -- By the time they got through playing games up there on the what-ifs on organization and the quantities and so forth, it was no longer a viable weapon.

The weaponry that we were to counter was -- had extended now to the point where it was not worth it. That it would no longer -- could a gun type of weapon provide that sort of protection. So it never got -- there was one unit fielded temporarily but -- for testing and all that. But that was it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So I’m wondering back on the Nike site here, did you feel stresses and pressures and this big responsibility because you were in charge of a Nike missile site?

HOWARD RICE: You always feel pressures when you’re in charge of anything, whether it was within the military structure. You’re expected to do your job.

You’re expected -- if you are a unit commander or a subordinate in that, you’re expected to be able to do your job and do it well.

And there’s always stresses, because there’re always tests and evaluations that come up. So no matter what type of a unit you’re in there are stresses and pressures that you have to do.

The combat stresses and so forth are different from what you would have, like in the brigades that they now have sittin’ out there at Fort -- Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.

But there are always pressures. Maybe they’re a little bit different and, yes, there are pressures. Yes, there are pressures that you’re on because they have what they used to call Operational Readiness Inspections.

And they would come in unexpectedly, sometimes at two o’clock in the morning, if they could rouse the people out -- you know, the crew, the team out -- and come in and you were expected to crawl outta bed and perform your job.

And on many occasions we had crewmen and other officers come in to the vans half-dressed, to get there, to make the response, and for us to do our job, and finish up the -- get ready to actually shoot a missile in the specified time frame.

So you never knew when these were going to occur.

Then because we were nuclear capable there were things called Technical Proficiency Inspections. And these involved showing that you could safely prepare and build up from the shipping containers a nuclear missile -- nuclear-armed missile -- and get it ready to be used.

And these were extremely tension creating. And failure of a TPI could mean the end of your career.

And I was -- fortunately the exec -- the only one that I had really a problem with was the one in Korea. And we were actually initially told that we had failed it.

But my -- the battalion commander, his previous experience had been in the cycle of development of nuclear warheads. He knew more about them than the people doing the inspection did.

And he went into a closed session with the commanding general -- this was in Korea -- of this division and everything, and lo and behold they changed it to a satisfactory rating.

But that was the closest I think that I ever came to a real dud on that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now did you feel a sense of responsibility in terms of national security and your role here with these Nike sites?

HOWARD RICE: I don’t know we really felt like we were responsible for the entire national security because -- but we were responsible for what our mission was.

And it was -- when you’re a company-grade officer, your involvement with the overall war -- or even planning for the war or anything -- is very limited.

RUTH RICE: Yeah. It’s nonexistent.

HOWARD RICE: It’s -- you receive the plans down and it’s your job to execute ‘em if required.

KAREN BREWSTER: You know your part? HOWARD RICE: Yeah.

RUTH RICE: And that’s what you’re supposed to do. And you do it without really thinking about it, I don’t think.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was wondering though how you feel about having played a part in this piece of history.

HOWARD RICE: It’s been a source of satisfaction. Not just here but also with the -- particularly being on the West Coast, in the San Francisco Defense.

We provided -- three of the seven sites were under -- as Battalion Operations Officer I had to make sure that they -- three of the seven sites in the San Francisco Defense were up and trained and could pass any inspection that they threw at us.

And if necessary to shoot the -- to provide the -- execute the mission in a hot war. In a shooting war. And there’s tension that goes with that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Sounds kinda stressful to me. RUTH RICE: Yeah. But --

HOWARD RICE: But it’s something that you take on when you sign -- when you take that oath.

RUTH RICE: I was gonna say, when raise your hand up, that’s --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when you marry this, then that’s part of the package.

RUTH RICE: Yeah. It is. HOWARD RICE: Yeah.

RUTH RICE: I don’t know that we ever really thought about it as being -- it was just what we did.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So these Nike reunions – have you gone to several of them?

RUTH RICE: No. This is the first one --

HOWARD RICE: This is the first one that we’ve been able to attend. We were supposed to attend the one in San Francisco last year, but there was a conflict with other activities -- family activities that had been pre-planned before. We were unable to --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So what has coming meant to you?

RUTH RICE: It’s a dream.

HOWARD RICE: This is the fulfillment of a dream that we had wanted for -- RUTH RICE: A long time.

HOWARD RICE: A long time. We wanted to come back and we wanted the girls to see the area where – well, they both have a –

RUTH RICE: I thought I – (cell phone rings and interrupts)

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So your girls must have been quite young when you left?

RUTH RICE: Well, Sarah was seven months old -- HOWARD RICE: Seven months.

RUTH RICE: And Robbie was -- HOWARD RICE: Two and a half. RUTH RICE: Two and a half.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does Robbie have any memory of this? RUTH RICE: No. No.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But you wanted them to come to see where they’d been born? RUTH RICE: Right.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, they’d been wanting to come back. RUTH RICE: Yeah. They have. Robbie --

HOWARD RICE: We tried -- have tried several times but something always came up to where we couldn’t even, you know -- it was -- it was not appropriate for us to be gone, or there was some other conflict that came up.

RUTH RICE: Well, we were going to try, probably about 2002. Well --

KAREN BREWSTER: It probably has changed a lot since 1964?

HOWARD RICE: Oh, yes! RUTH RICE: Oh yeah.

HOWARD RICE: I don’t recognize any part of downtown Anchorage.

RUTH RICE: I don’t recognize anything, quite frankly. The cemetery stayed the same. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

RUTH RICE: Lake Hood stayed the same. I -- the things that are permanent, geological -- the mountain looks the same, Site Summit.

HOWARD RICE: Except I miss seeing those domes up there.

RUTH RICE: Yeah. Well, the domes aren’t there, but the mountain looks the same. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: Let me quickly ask you about the domes. The clamshells that covered the radar? RUTH RICE: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did those work?

RUTH RICE: Yeah, oh yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

RUTH RICE: They worked. They would open. HOWARD RICE: Okay, the --

KAREN BREWSTER: And in the cold, they worked?

HOWARD RICE: Well, the reason that we had the clamshells was to protect the domes. The domes over the radar antenna itself were inflatable.

And they were transparent to the electromagnetic energy, the energy waves from the radars.

And -- but if we had strong winds, those -- because they were kept in shape by fiberglass rods and the pressure from the air on the one side could deflate ‘em and start -- and make it hard for them to do their -- for the whole antenna to rotate.

So the clamshells were very necessary for two -- actually for two reasons. One, they raised up partway so that the crews could get up there and work on it safely.

Because the clamshells also had a safety rail built in across the sides that were down. But they came up to a level where they provided a safety rail system -- safety system -- to keep the crewmen safe when they went up there.

Then after the winds got so strong -- and anything short of an actual shooting war -- we had to close them to protect the radomes from being damaged.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But did they still work even when the clamshell was closed?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Once the clamshell was closed they --

HOWARD RICE: Was closed, no, because they were steel. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: That’s the reason I said – qualified that – that, if we went to war the clamshells would be open. We’d get off as best we could.

KAREN BREWSTER: So if you were in hot status they stayed open?

HOWARD RICE: No, because -- no, they would close. We would not stay -- somebody else would take over hot status.

There was always a back-up unit that was immediately behind you that would be ready to take over hot status.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you needed -- when you were on hot status you had to have all your equipment and radar going, so they had to stay open?

HOWARD RICE: Well, we didn’t have to -- we didn’t keep the magnetrons fired. We were not radiating energy other than usually the low power would be on, but even that would be -- {cell phone interrupts)

No, they would stay open most of the time during that unless we were back -- each day we had to go up and do a -- had to do what they called a collimation.

We had to aim the radar at a test mast and then look through the telescope in line to see if -- make sure the alignment was correct vertically and horizontally, so that what the antenna -- the radar would point right directly at the signal from the test mast.

The way that -- and technically speaking it was -- the feethorn (?) was a -- had four quadrants to it, and you had to make sure that those were balanced so the signal was --

And to make sure that the mechanical alignment was still totally accurate. So you would have to go up and do those tests during a --

KAREN BREWSTER: And all this worked in the cold? The clamshells all functioned and everything?

HOWARD RICE: Oh, yeah. I mean, those we never had any problems with. They were simple, well-built mechanical structures.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We only have a few moments left. Is there anything that you’d like to tell about living here and being part of the Nike Hercules that we haven’t touched on?

HOWARD RICE: Well, I’d like to say that seeing how big this place has grown is fantastic. You know, in fifty years -- Fourth and Fifth Streets were downtown. RUTH RICE: Yeah.

HOWARD RICE: Sixth Street was beginning to be developed a little.

RUTH RICE: Fourth Street didn’t -- was still -- did not exist when we left. It was gone.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because of the earthquake?

RUTH RICE: Because of the earthquake.

HOWARD RICE: Yeah, Third Street was the one where they – the row of bars along there that a lot of our troops were in when the earthquake hit and they fell down, they found themselves looking at the cellar doors.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, is there anything else, Ruth, about the wives and families’ perspectives that you --

RUTH RICE: I was just sitting here thinking about when we got back to the States we had stopped ‘cause we were going -- we landed at SeaTac and were driving back to -- I guess our parents’ -- HOWARD RICE: Yeah, we --

RUTH RICE: -- for Christmas and tried to make it, and stopped at a restaurant and there was a picture of a cow. I’m trying to remember whether it was a Holstein or a Longhorn -- probably a Holstein.

But daughter is sitting there and she’s looking at this picture and -- remember she’s two and a half years old -- she’s talking.

She stood up and she pointed at that, and she said, “Moose! Moose!” Very articulate, very loud.

Everybody in this restaurant turned around and looked at this kid like, what an idiot. And we’re saying, no Sarah, that’s a cow. “Moose!”

HOWARD RICE: Robbie. Robbie.

RUTH RICE: “Moose!” I thought, okay. Okay, it’s a moose.

Somebody walked up to us and said, “She thinks it’s a moose?” And I said, “ Uh, we just came from Alaska. They don’t have cows in Alaska.” Well, actually they did -- we knew they did, but --

KAREN BREWSTER: She’d never seen one.

RUTH RICE: But she wasn’t ever going to see them, because they were locked up in the barn all the time.

HOWARD RICE: The other thing was the first time she saw a oil well.

RUTH RICE: Oh, the up-and-downs.

HOWARD RICE: And it became the up-and-downs. For years after that they were the up-and-downs.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you guys so much for your time this evening. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Thank you.

KAREN BREWSTER: It’s been great fun to talk to you and get to know you. We really appreciate it.

HOWARD RICE: Well, it’s been our pleasure. RUTH RICE: I am glad that you --

HOWARD RICE: I’m glad -- If you could, I would love to have a tape of this.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We will definitely send you one.