John & Pat Steinke

In March, 1964, we were an Army family of four, and a longhaired dachshund, living at Fort Richardson. Dad was the DEW Line Communications Director and worked over at Elmendorf Air Force Base. I was thirteen. My little brother was almost three. When “The earthquake” hit, my mother was downstairs. Dad was in the kitchen, fixing his Friday night special – spaghetti. My brother and I were upstairs, on the bed in our parent’s room, watching TV. It sounds kind of corny now, but it was a favorite show, “Fireball XL-5”. The Fireball had just begun its roll-out and was zooming down the track, about to reach the end and launch off on another adventure. When the booster rockets ignited, the picture flickered, and then (as the station lost power and went off the air) the screen went to black, with just a single white dot … a la “The Twilight Zone”.

Of the four of us, only three knew immediately what was happening. Mom and Dad, having lived in California and Japan realized that it was an earthquake, and a big one at that. My brother figured out that the, “Bad Fireball broke TV”. I was your standard, oblivious pre-teen. I didn’t have a clue. I just lay on the bed and went along for the ride as it flew around the room, slamming from one wall to another. I do remember looking out the window and seeing the ground rising and falling, like ocean waves, and thinking, “That doesn’t look right.”

When the shaking was over, Dad came flying up the stairs grabbed my brother and yelled at me to get out of the house. Just before we went out, we all stopped in the pantry to grab hats, coats, mittens and boots. A lot of food had fallen to the floor and broken open. A package of Lorna Doones was open, laying their golden goodness at our feet. Between my brother and the dog they were disappearing rapidly. When Dad reached down to pick them both up, someone sank teeth into his arm. To the day he died, he would always remark that, “That was the sweetest, most even-tempered dog in the world. She never bit anyone in her life!”

We lived at 524-C Beluga Avenue. Our building was a row unit, with eight apartments. The last two (apartments G and H) had been turned into a double apartment and were the residence of the Post Commanding General. I don’t recall his name, but his wife was really nice and would often invite us kids in for cookies. I remember their living room had a couple of big curio cabinets filled with china, crystal, ivory knick-knacks and other frou-frou stuff. The building acted like a whip during the earthquake, with Unit A serving as the handle. Damage to our apartments (A, B and C) was light, but the General and his wife lost everything.

Calgon & Sun Flower Star

John & Pat Steinke

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3 thoughts on “John & Pat Steinke

  1. I was trying to remember the name of that TV show-Fireball XL-5 and found it on your post. We were watching it also, as well as having spaghetti that night. Spaghetti sauce covered the kitchen walls! My dad was stationed at Elmendorf and I was 9 at the time.

  2. I am delighted to hear of someone who knows what this special experience was like. I do have a question, though. My Dad, a retired Lt. Col., and a Capt. at the time, was in communications at Elmendorf. He was credited with the first call to the lower 48. He was given a 3′ telephone pole as a reminder. Do you know if your dad worked with guys at Elmendorf?

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