November 18, 2014 – 2:42 AM November, 18, 1999
At 2:42 am this morning marked the 15th anniversary of the bonfire collapse on the Texas A&M campus killing twelve young people.
The following email was sent on the following day,Friday, 11/19/99, to his entire department at TEA. He is a retired United States Air Force Captain and Vietnam Veteran. I worked with him for years and never saw him express any emotion other than cynism or sarcasm. He was on his way to Huntsville on the 18th when a bookcase fell from a pickup truck causing an accident. He was fine, but the car was not. He and the car were towed to the Ford Dealer in College Station. He called his wife to come pick him up, but it would be a couple of hours before she could arrive. He decided to get something to eat at the McDonalds and that is when he noticed the helicopters. He decided to walk over a take a look. Here is his email.
“As I approached the site, you could not help but notice the 26 satellite trucks that surrounded the bonfire area on all sides. The media was EVERYWHERE – in the sky, around the site, and all over the parking lot. I walked up to take a look at the toppled pile of logs. They only way I can describe what I saw is to say that everything was surreal – for all the helicopters overhead, for all the trucks running their power-generators, for all the cranes and heavy equipment lifting the logs off the pile one-by-one – I noticed the silence.
No one was barking orders, no one appeared to be telling anyone what to do – it was if everyone knew what had to be done and they went about their job without a word. I found it somewhat strange that there seemed to an absence of anyone over 25 years year old. Hundreds of young men and women – with makeshift hardhats of every color and description – lifted the heavy logs one-by-one and moved them to a clearing area.
With each log, their clothes got dirtier and dirtier, the number of cuts and bruses multiplied, and when their bodies said they needed a break, a fresh group of young men and women would take their place – there was no shortage of volunteers.
Hundreds of students cycled between the campus and the bonfire area. There was nothing but silence. No one said hello; no one whispered; they would just stand on the sidelines, watch the logs slowly being removed and leave – it was as if they knew that they could not stand to look at it any longer without breaking down. At the local McDonalds across the street, students gathered and watched the TV coverage of the accident. No discussions, no comments, just silence.
It was a very moving experience. There is no question that the accident is a great tragedy, but I saw something else as well. Throughout the ordeal, there was a tremendous sense of unity. Even the strongest guy there could not have lifted a log by himself and move it to the side alone – it took a team effort. It did not matter whether they were male or female, black or white, rich or poor, a football player, a squad member, a drill team member, or just a fan, they moved and acted as one.
Everyone who hoisted one of those heavy logs on their shoulders that day will remember the experience forever. So will those of us who stood on the sidelines.”
Yes, Keith, but it is because, We are the Aggies; the Aggies are We.