Law Makers are passing bills to recognize March 27th as the official Rembembrance Day of the Good Friday Earthquake that struck Alaska 51 years ago. In the Legislature, House Bill 35 is awaiting Governor Bill Walker’s signature. Independently, the Anchorage Assembly passed its own local version last week.
Both efforts came about because of the same man.
Chuck Volanti was only 24-years-old when Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America.
“I was working at the Alaska Air National Guard during the time of the quake,” Volanti said by phone. “That evening is an evening that I will never forget.”
Volanti was part of a four-man unit in the Air National Guard. Weeks after the quake, the crew was on a humanitarian mission to Valdez. As they flew out ahead of bad weather the plane went down, killing three guardsmen, as well as Adjutant General Thomas Carol, who was with them. Volanti was not on board, and is the only survivor from the office.
The seed for the Remembrance Day resolutions was planted when he visited Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in 2013.
“I wanted to put a wreath at the wall of honor, in memory of fallen comrades,” said Volanti.
In March of 2014, Governor Sean Parnell signed into law a bill recognizing March 27th as the 50th anniversary of the disaster. But as Volanti puts it, that was “law for a day,” and he felt that the deceased, as well as the survivors, deserved something more lasting. So he brought the issue back up with House Republican Charisse Millett of Anchorage.
“This legislation honors these people, it remembers these people,” Volanti said. “So in a subsequent conversation with Representative Millet I said ‘This is a date that should be, now and forever, remembered.’ And I said ‘Representative Millet would you kindly consider sponsoring a bill?’ which she did do.”
The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. But Volanti didn’t stop there. He mentioned the issue to Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who helped get a local version in front of the Assembly. Flags will fly at half-mast, and clergy in Anchorage and elsewhere have agreed to toll their bells to mark the date each year. They are symbolic steps that Assembly chair Dick Traini believes will carry forward the lessons learned after the quake.
“So the purpose of this is to just remind Alaskans about what happened in the past, and what will happen again,” Traini said by phone. “Because there will be another earthquake–it’s a matter of when it happens, not if.”
Traini hopes the official remembrance will help remind residents to take steps to prepare, like having a three day supply of food and water at home.
And though Volanti and his wife now live outside of Alaska, his work commemorating the quake isn’t over, even half a century later.
“One of the last things I have left to do is see some kind of a memorial…placed in Valdez in honor of this flight crew,” Volanti said. “Like I say, to me these men were more like family than a formal military command.”
The Anchorage resolution passed unanimously last week in the Assembly.