The Spirit That Can Ne’er Be Told: An Exclusive Look at the Texas A&M Tradition of Muster
All Photos by: GA Media Media Productions.
April 22, 2019 - Aggie Park (North SA)
By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, San Antonio Sentinel
“There’s a Spirit can ne’er be told. It’s the Spirit of Aggieland.” These are the first words to the Spirit of Aggieland, the alma mater of Texas A&M University. This Spirit is evident all around the campus of Texas A&M and is one of the first things that A&M students are taught from day one at Fish Camp before they enter the university as freshmen. Anyone who has been a student at Texas A&M, or anyone who has even set foot upon the campus during a Saturday gameday can attest to the fact that Aggies take their school seriously. To them, it isn’t just an institution of higher learning…it’s a way of life. This way of life is no where more apparent than at the uniquely solemn tradition of Muster.
Texas A&M alumni and family members gathered within the halls of the convocation facility at Aggie Park Monday night to celebrate this cherished observance. Many stood in the back or around the sides of the expansive room, unable to find a fold out chair to sit on due to the high turnout for this year’s Muster. Shuffling about the room lined with years of Aggie memorabilia, generations of Former Students greeted one another like old friends, despite many never having met before that day.
“This is a special ceremony because it brings me back to my Aggie roots,” describes Joel Elizondo, a 2013 graduate of Texas A&M who majored in Science and Biochemistry. “So I think it’s an excellent opportunity for all Aggies to come back together and just relish in this moment and enjoy each other’s company.”
San Antonio is unique among Aggie organizations, as the city’s A&M Club is the only one to possess a physical facility like the SA location which is available year round to A&M alumni for events and gatherings. Currently undergoing a capital campaign, the space is due to get an update soon and will rely heavily on donations from Former Students and the Aggie faithful.
Taking place once a year on April 21st, this tradition exists to commemorate Aggies who passed away the prior year and to remember times spent at the university with friends and family alike. The first Aggie Muster took place on June 26, 1883 when a group of Former Students gathered together to talk about their days attending the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. The official day for Muster was later moved to April 21st to commemorate the day when Texas celebrated its independence from Mexico. It now exists to honor Aggies from all over the world by calling out the names of the fallen Former Students and to remember their lives and the days they spent while in college at A&M. The March edition of the 1923 publication Texas Aggie described the event best. “If there is an A&M man in one hundred miles of you, you are expected to get together, eat a little, and live over the days you spent at the A&M College of Texas,” read the Texas Aggie.
“It’s just a great event. It’s a chance to see a lot of Aggies that I know,” Major Louis Ullrich, Class of ‘72 said. “It’s a good way to get Aggies together and to recall some of those guys we know that have passed away during the past year and think about them a little bit.”
In an ever-divisive political environment, it is inspiring to see a group of people united around a common cause and dedicated towards an ideal bigger than oneself. Mandy Scott, President of the Texas A&M San Antonio Alumni Club echoed these sentiments when she addressed the packed room of Aggie faithful. “This is why we do what we do. To remember the values that unite us, rather than the ideologies that divide us,” stated Scott. “To show our loyalty to each other and to give back so that future generations of Aggies can experience the same.”
The night consisted of several opening speeches by Former Students and a special address from Todd Staples (Class of ‘84), President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association. “This year, we in San Antonio join Aggies gathering in over 300 locations around the world from Alaska to Australia to Saudi Arabia,” announced Staples. “Whether from the comfort of grand rooms and facilities like we’re sitting in this evening or from the shadow of conflict, we uphold a proud legacy.”
He further went on to address the tradition of answering “Here” when a deceased Former Student’s name is called out at the Muster. “Be comforted in knowing your loved ones knew they would be honored in the Texas A&M Muster. Know that they saw Aggie Muster as a celebration of Aggie life and Aggie tradition,” stated Staples. “By answering ‘Here’ during the roll call for the absent this evening, that life and this tradition lives on, and with that we celebrate. Gig ‘em Aggies!”
After all the opening speeches had been recited, it was time for the Muster ceremony to begin. The facility’s fluorescent lights went black and the room sat still in a comforting darkness, lit only by a few candles held by Former Students standing towards the front of the room. Reading off a roster of fallen Aggies, Cynthia Cantu (Class of ‘96) invoked the names of those who were unable to answer “Here” that night and whose families had come to light a candle in their memory. One by one, family members and friends made their way to the front of the assembly to answer “Here” for the deceased and take a white carnation back to their seat where they would listen to the full roster of names being read that night.
After all the names of the Former Students who passed away had been recited aloud, two additional names were announced at the Muster. Distinct to this ceremony, these two names were not the names of Aggie alumni, but rather of two individuals who are considered in many ways “Honorary Aggies” due to their service to the university and the country. These two names were of President George H.W. Bush and Former First Lady Barbara Bush who were buried outside of their Presidential library in College Station on the Texas A&M campus on December 6, 2018.
Once the roll call was concluded, Taps played over the loudspeaker and not a dry eye could be found within the audience of Aggie faithful. However, once the solemn song had finished, the reading of the poem, “The Last Corps Trip,” began. The poem tells the story of Judgment Day in Aggieland and the final days of the world when St. Peter and a band of angels are about to pass judgment on the A&M campus. “I’ve seen them play since way back when, And they’ve always had the grit; I’ve seen ‘em lose and I’ve seen ‘em win, But I’ve never seen ‘em quit,” illustrates the verbose composition.
Immediately upon conclusion of the poem, the ceremony launched into a rousing recitation of The Spirit of Aggieland and all in attendance belted out the words to the song they knew so well. “Some may boast of prowess bold. Of the school they think so grand. But there's a spirit can ne'er be told. It's the Spirit of Aggieland,” declares the acclaimed melody.
After the Muster ceremony had ended, alumni and friends remained in the club’s halls talking and reminiscing on days long past. “I try to make it as many times as I can, because it’s something that we have at Texas A&M that other schools don’t have,” said Harold “Soupy” Reich (Class of ‘45), who had returned to the College Station campus recently to present an Aggie ring to a student from the Corps of Cadets who was unable to afford one. “A&M means camaraderie. It stands for togetherness. It stands for belonging. It stands for honor. We just have something that other schools don’t have and I don’t care where you go in the world, if you see somebody with an Aggie ring, you’ve got a friend there.”