Someone’s hero

View of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, HI

December 7th of our most recent year past marks the 78th anniversary of a date that will live in infamy, to use words of the very man who signed into law the Federal Credit Union Act.

I like to believe that we are all, each of us heroes in our own little way. There’s a magic to our brains, our hearts, and when we use this magic in service of others, well, that’s heroism.

Saturday, December 6, 1941—Friday was payday and scores of members of Hickam Federal Credit Union, located at Pearl Harbor Naval/Hickam Air Base, were flowing into the shop, deposits and payments at the ready. The credit union distributed roughly $5,000 in receipts on that Friday and Saturday.

The credit union’s offices were housed in a large hangar on Hickam Field, which made it easier for members – many of them active duty – as they had no payroll deductions available, and automatic deposit had yet to be conceived. As such, members were often asked to leave their passbooks for redistribution for a few days after (staff recorded deposits, withdrawals, and payments for members in a small booklet known as a passbook).

Sunday, December 7, 1941—Just shy of 8 am, the first of more than 360 warplanes dipped from the clouds above Oahu and into view of American civilians and military personnel. Though it took time for many on the ground to realize the gravity of the situation, the concussion from ordinance and thudding of gunfire was more than enough to alert former Hickman FCU Treasurer Philip Ward Eldred, who lived only a few blocks from the credit union.

Eldred peered from his windows and immediately recognized the large, red suns on the wings of these aircraft. Imperial Japan was at war with the United States, but Eldred couldn’t help thinking of his members. He bolted from his home and into the din and the glare of history unfolding in waves before him. A thick blanket of oily smoke already hung in the air over battleship row. Eldred watched helplessly as Japanese warplanes strafed civilian traffic all about him. And still, he couldn’t help thinking about his members.

He charged toward his office, desperate to secure records held in the vault and in two, large steel lockers. He was a mere few hundred yards from the credit union when an Aichi D3A Carrier Bomber opened up on those rushing across Hickam Field. Eldred was no match for the two Light 97 machine guns mounted at the front of the airplane and he was cut down there. He was 36 years old.

Less than 5 minutes later, a cluster of 100 lbs. bombs fell, one of which struck the credit union, sending office equipment, documents, and a 600 lbs. safe out of the hangar and onto the airstrips. Almost all of the memberships’ passbooks were destroyed, including the bulk of Hickam FCU’s most important records. A whirlwind of burning paper and debris danced over the destruction.

Wednesday, December 10th, 1941—As the smoke lifted and the dread of the aftermath shown, Hickam FCU’s board convened. Hundreds of accounts, loans, and passbooks had to be recreated, many from memory. The offices were destroyed. It was decided Hickam FCU would suspend business, minus taking deposits, as the credit union began to rebuild.

Wednesday, January 7th, 1942 —Members of the credit union rallied behind their institution, fully supporting the decisions of the board. By the new year, almost $60,000 in notes were obtained and more than 400 passbooks, accounting for $74,000 in shares were reissued, equal to roughly $1,859,124.20 today. A small structure was erected to serve the many displaced, as best the credit union knew how.

Sunday, January 11th, 1942—After the cooperative energies of the board and staff, the amazing support of the credit union’s members, (most if not all of the membership agreed to transfer assets to a special reserve, foregoing dividends so that the credit union could keep its doors open) Hickam FCU reopened. The shop is still thriving today, with assets of $582 million and some 48,000 members.

While the heroism of the day goes unmatched by countless and the memory of those lost forever remembered, it’s important to believe that we are all heroes in our own way. There’s a magic inside of us, and when we use it in the service of others, we can be heroes. It’s special to remember this as we work, tirelessly, to protect our members, our industry, and each other. As a credit union employee, you may often find yourself immersed in the lives of many, and while it might not always seem like it, you are very often someone’s hero.

Michael Murdoch

Michael Murdoch

Michael, CUDE, CCUFC, (he/him) has primarily held marketing and communications roles within Pacific Northwest credit unions. Michael serves as a CUNA Diamond Awards and Conference Committees Member, Co-Chair of ... Details