I tell you what. Those Aggies are really something!
I related a simple little story in this space last week about a young family I encountered at Jekyll Island. The husband/father - a Texas A&M graduate, was just back from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, you might recall, and was enjoying a day on Jekyll with his wife and two young daughters and I wrote about the sacrifice that family - and untold thousands of others - have made on behalf of our country.
Now this is where the magic of the Internet takes over. A friend of mine from high school, one Jimbo Allen, high school quarterback extraordinaire, who now lives, I believe, in Houston, Texas - saw the column online. It seems that Jimbo, who probably goes by James now, has a daughter who matriculated at Texas A&M and he has become a follower of all things Aggie. He decided to link my column to an A&M message board, and that's when things got interesting.
Now let me say this. I didn't know an awful lot about the school in College Station before last weekend. I knew that a friend of mine who is now a retired Baptist preacher was dumb enough when he was a college student at Baylor University to let his then girlfriend, Doris, attend an A&M homecoming game with an Aggie student. I learned from him that the Texas A&M cadets kiss their dates every time the team scores and that the day Doris went to a game in College Station A&M won 70-0, or something like that. That's a lot of kissing. It turned out OK. My friend and Doris have been married for about a gazillion years.
I knew that Bear Bryant coached at Texas A&M before coming home to Alabama and that he took his first Aggie team to a quasi-death camp in a place called Junction and ran off most of the team before turning those who were left into champions. And I knew that the student body still stands en masse throughout their football games - creating a rather intimidating "Twelfth Man" effect.
That was about as far as my knowledge went.
Well, I know a whole lot more now, believe you me.
It seems that Jim Allen's post coincided with a special occasion at A&M - "Muster Day" - which occurs on April 21 every year. April 21 is Texas Independence Day and marks the anniversary of Sam Houston's victory over Mexican dictator Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Muster Day is a big deal at Texas A&M - marked with games and activities and a solemn evening ceremony at which speeches are given and the names of Texas A&M alumni who have died since the last muster are read. Those who knew the departed answer the roll call on their behalf. But it doesn't end there. Musters are also held all over the world - and I mean that literally. Wherever two or more Aggies are gathered, a ceremony is held and fallen heroes are remembered. This year, the names of five people were called who died defending freedom since the last muster.
And make no mistake about it. Texas A&M takes Muster seriously - and she takes the sacrifices of her sons and daughters seriously, too.
I received hundreds of responses to my column. Hundreds. Every time I turned on my computer, dozens of new e-mails popped up on my screen. Some were short and to the point. "Thank you." "Well done." "We appreciate the kind words."
But others! Others were long epistles in which men and women poured out their hearts and bared their souls in an effort to explain how much they love and appreciate their school - and their country.
I heard from mothers and fathers who had lost sons in Iraq and Vietnam and other places around the globe. I heard from Aggies who had landed on beaches with names like Utah and Omaha, and Aggies who had served on Iwo Jima and Okinawa and, well, you get the picture. I heard from men who are stationed in Baghdad right this minute; men who drove 20 miles through potentially deadly streets to be at Muster with their fellow Aggies. I heard from wives whose husbands are deployed, thanking me for putting their husband's service and their own sacrifice in perspective.
Wives of deployed soldiers were thanking me. That is so backward!
All week, the e-mails came in from proud Aggies, each and every one full of heart-felt thanks for mentioning their alma mater. Hearing from all those wonderful folks made me want to get in my car and head for Texas and the A&M campus - one of the few places in this great land that I have never visited. Makes me wonder what a fellow has to do to become an honorary Aggie.
Well, I don't know about that, but I know this. If the entire nation was as full of patriotism and pride and esprit de corps as the Texas A&M family, well, all of our country's problems wouldn't be solved, but we'd be a hell of a lot closer to solving them.
God bless America - and God bless Aggies everywhere.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.