At a recent NRECA Town Hall meeting, I was asked to speak to staff about a point of historical significance to commemorate the association’s 75th Anniversary. After considering many of the key events that have transpired since NRECA’s creation, I settled on something that has been not only important but consistent in the history of co-ops: The connection of NRECA to the U.S. military.
Since our beginning, U.S. electric cooperatives have shared common cause with the military. We curtailed line construction in our program’s infancy in the late-1930s and early ’40s to support the war effort. We hired thousands of returning GIs into operations jobs after World War II. We’ve encouraged our employees to participate in the National Guard and Reserves, and have provided service to dozens of military bases across the country.
To illustrate this point at the staff meeting, I talked about the experience of NRECA’s first two managers, Clyde Ellis and Bob Partridge.
Ellis was chosen to lead the association in January 1943, at the height of U.S. involvement in World War II. Later that same year, he took a leave of absence to join the Navy. As a Navy lieutenant, he was commander in charge of the armed guard protecting the Liberty ship SS Benjamin Silliman as it carried materials across the Atlantic to supply the war effort. He was witness to the VE Day celebrations in both London and Manchester, England, and one week later attended a reception in Paris given for him by leading Paris advocates of a world peace organization. During his two years in the Navy, he read many books on cooperative philosophy and achievements and visited Rochdale, England, site of the first successful cooperative and origin of the cooperative principles.
In 1968, NRECA named Partridge to succeed Ellis. Partridge was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves in 1938 and retired after the Korean War as a major general. During World War II, he saw action for three years as a reconnaissance officer and a tank commander in the South Pacific, including the campaigns of Eastern Mandates, Bismarck Archipelago, Luzon, and the Southern Philippines. He was also commander in charge of the deployment to Kauai ‘i to ensure that the Japanese had not infiltrated the island and was anchored off the coast of Japan when he and his troops learned that the Japanese had surrendered.
The experience of NRECA’s first CEOs was just the beginning of a long and deep connection between co-ops and the U.S. military that continues to this day. Visit REmagazine.coop to see photos from around the country showing the co-op/armed services bond.
Photo Gallery | Co-ops and Armed Services Bond
At Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas, Engineering Supervisor Randy Buchanan, front, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, and Ted Hodgkiss, right, underground maintenance supervisor and a chief master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, cite the co-op’s moral and financial support during their deployment overseas in as crucial to helping them focus on their military mission. “They’re like family members,” notes District Manager John Houser, left, Hodgkiss’s supervisor. (Photo by Ed Thompson)